Traffic administration by the Police

Tuesday, 8 November 2011 00:22 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The private sector, they say is the ‘engine of growth’ in the country. Going by this saying the engine of growth must self start punctually in the mornings.  In the broader sense, it is not only the private sector, the public sector and the other sections of the commuting community such as schools, factories, offices and other institutions too must begin their daily operations on time.  

Regrettably, the concept of the Private sector being the engine of growth appears to have no bearing whatsoever on the Police department of the country in general and the traffic police in the city of Colombo in particular.  Presently,  it is observed that most traffic personnel come to man important traffic points rather late in the day.  In the good old days one sees traffic policeman taking up positions in their respective points as early as 06.30 am.  Not only do constables and sergeants man points, one sees their supervisory sub inspectors and inspectors, and area OIC’s being present. Today sadly important junctions are manned by very junior and probably new constables, who are inexperienced in handling problematic traffic flows, especially in the mornings.   In a presentation of issues connected to Traffic congestion, C J Johnson MIE, has identified the following forms of losses due to traffic congestion;

The problem

1.Wasted time of motorists and passengers.

2.Fuel loss and undue wear and tare of vehicles and spare parts.

3.Loss of pay for employees.

4.Loss of life due to not reaching hospital in time.

5.Increased road accidents due to over speeding taken to make up for lost time.

6.Increased carbon dioxide emission and atmospheric pollution.

7.Risk of increased diseases.

 8.Increased stress and tension for both motorists and passengers.

9.Increased travel costs, and finally

10.Increased cost of business.  Good road infrastructure and effective Traffic administration can immensely contribute to minimizing losses due to traffic congestion.  

In the height of the war one could excuse the police somewhat saying that they are also engaged in city security duties.  The armed forces have very professionally and effectively come over that period and it is up to the civilian police to demonstrate their professionalism in police duties, be it crime prevention, crime detection or traffic administration and management.   We see supervisory police officers of the inspectorate coming to important points, not with the intention of giving good leadership in administering the smooth flow of traffic, but only with the specific objective of saluting the senior gazette officers’ or VIPP politicians who happen to pass the particular route.  No sooner these officials have passed the supervisory officers make their exit, leaving traffic controlling totally in the hands of the very junior of the lower ranks, some of whom have no inkling of the peculiarities, inherent to their particular traffic point.  


In some instances, the junior cops also follow their superiors and do the vanishing trick.  The confused look in the face of most of these junior police constables at messed up traffic points, are not strange scenes one encounters in the road.  It is time that the traffic management and administration be taken seriously by the top brass in the police department.  Senior police officers in the past and may be in the present too attend traffic courses in countries like Japan,  Singapore and in the UK, but there has not been a concerted and planned effort to impart the knowledge gained at these senior training sessions to lower ranks involved in traffic administration at a practical level.  What is suggested is that the course content of these training sessions overseas be customized to suit local conditions and the officers who attended these courses to personally lead from the front in training the lower ranks.  By this it also means the effort has to be planned, budgeted, time frames fixed and reviewed for continuous improvement.  For instance in the training sessions the peak hour traffic flow in the mornings and evenings in busy and problematic junctions such as Parliament junction, Maradana junction, Kanatte  junction to name a few should be photographed or better videoed and studied  for solutions with batches of field level police officers.  Apart from these,  traffic police officers need also be initiated into to thinking ‘out of the box’, and being imaginative in solving traffic issues as it arises, instead of waiting for ‘orders’ from so called traffic specialists, to ensure smooth traffic flow.   

The recent re advent of the elevated traffic platform in certain sections of Colombo is a welcome step, but its usefulness and practicality has not been driven home amongst the younger generation of lower ranking policemen.  The police officer directing traffic from the raised platform has to use his whistle and hands to effectively and efficiently manage the flow, by maintaining constant visibility of the converging traffic lanes.

This officer must be backed up with a stand by officer on a motor cycle to pursue and apprehend errant motorists who fail to obey the signals of the traffic policeman directing traffic from the raised platform. The presence of a police motorcycle would also act as a psychological deterrent to errant drivers.  The deployment of traffic police detectives in plain clothes is another measure that could be used to ensure motorists comply with traffic rules and habits even in the absence of uniformed policemen.  These traffic detectives however should not be used to detect violators and offenders.  Their role should be to monitor, observe and discreetly convey such information to enforcing traffic officers as well as pass on information to traffic police top brass for purposes of research and analysis of urban road traffic and improvement of road and pedestrian safety.  

These Traffic Detectives could also be deployed to observe and report on the driving habits especially of tri-shaws, school vans and private buses.  Most private bus drivers have no regard for the safety of the passengers inside their busses.  These private bus drivers have no idea that their vehicles transporting passengers must prioritize the safety of passengers.  Today Children, elders and the able-bodied have to cling on to dear life inside private buses, due to the dangerous driving styles of these callous drivers.  If necessary the Motor Traffic Act (MTA), could be amended to cover the actions of the traffic detectives, their modus operandi and the manner in which their evidence could be admitted in court.  A code of Conduct, an Appendix to the MTA for passenger buses seems warranted.  The code could specify policies such as, passenger buses within cities and main towns to be driven on the left side of the road and ply one behind the other and not permit overtaking by crossing lanes etc.

The Solution

Johnson, in his study of traffic congestion recommends the following to reduce Traffic congestion;

1.Road and Highway infrastructure development.

2.Private sector participation in the above ventures.

3.Widening of busy roads.

4.Junctions and intersections with studied and planned controls.

5.Development of alternate transport modes, such as rail, Metrorail, and waterway transport systems.

The Parliament junction close to the Water’s edge is an ideal example of all of the shortcomings discussed.  The motorists who violate and obstruct traffic at this point are not only Private buses and Trishaws, also respectable looking ladies and gentleman.   This is an important junction.  During parliament sittings one sees many senior officers present at this point.  During normal days  it is in the hands of recruit or junior police constables and one does not see a sergeant, sub-Inspector or Inspector present to offer leadership.  Is this situation to be taken as an inference that the police are not concerned or interested about the normal public commuting in time to their work places? The normal commuting public would include students, teachers, medical personnel, top executives, workers and government servants.  In this context pedestrian discipline avoiding jay walking and private motorists practicing road discipline and courtesy would also help ease traffic congestion.    

Presently we see a lot of commendable road, pedestrian and payment infrastructure development taking place under the directions of the Urban Development Authority (UDA), which has fortunately been placed under the supervision of the Secretary Ministry of Defence, the dynamic Gotabaya Rajapakse. On behalf of the public, Gotabaya Rajapakse would be doing great yeoman services to the public at large if his good offices are directed towards the subject of traffic administration and management by infusing some military discipline, dynamism and imagination to the ranks of portly traffic policemen, who have become nothing but complacent gentry of the khaki  Klan!  

Recent columns