A judicial magistrate in Karachi recently handed down an unusual punishment to a traffic rules violator by ordering him to stand at a traffic signal for two consecutive hours, every Friday for a whole year, holding a ‘Speed Kills’ placard.
The person, Muhammad Qasim, was found guilty on several charges of speeding on his motorbike and that too on the wrong lane, breaching security cordon, ignoring a stop signal, hitting a policeman and inflicting injuries on him.
The verdict received a mixed response from general public. Some appreciated it, for them it was an excellent way to teach people to observe the law. Others criticized the authorities for coming after the minor offenders only and sparing the influential.
“The criticism is rational, though it sounds like a failed attempt to justify one’s own wrongdoing,” says Section Officer (SO) Mehtab Soomro of one of the sensitive and busiest Karachi Cantonment traffic section for two years now.
“Most of the people I issue tickets to complain similarly. People would not see their fault but of others. Our problems will be solved the day we started behaving and acting responsibly,” he adds.
Soomro’s service with the city’s traffic police spans over three decades. He joined the force in his youth as a constable and now in his early 50s he sports two stars on his shoulders that make him a sub-inspector.
“I have had many encounters with people who think that due to their pseudo social status they can get away with traffic violation,” he says, issuing a ticket to an enraged person over using cell phone while driving. “And I know how to tackle them.”
According to A2Z E-Payments company, which handles the Traffic Ticketing Management and Reporting System of the force in the city, over 7,000 tickets are issued to violators every day, generating a revenue of around Rs1.8 million.
Karachi has a road network of estimated 9,500 kilometers, according to a report from the Pakistan Today, and by the end of April this year, 41,90,050 vehicles have been registered with the Excise and Taxation Department. On the contrary, the traffic police have a mere strength of 3,200 personnel.
“If we invested all our strength in apprehending violators then no one will be left to manage the movement of the traffic on the roads. There will a huge mess. And then we will be criticized for neglecting the movement part,” he tells as a message on his radio informs about a scheduled VVIP movement in the area.
From the smaller strength of the traffic police, a considerable number of personnel are deputed with VVIP squads that frequently ply on the roads. “This is also part of our duty. Besides protecting general public of traffic accidents, we are also supposed to protect VVIPs,” he tells and speeds up his bike towards the point of movement.
Much like the population, the vehicles pool has also swelled in the city whilst no measures have apparently been taken by the authorities to manage and control them. A study of traffic police data on numbers of vehicles registered with the authorities within a decade reveals some startling figures.
It says that from 2007 till April 30, 2017 the motorcycles have increased by 221 percent, cars and jeeps by 56 percent, rickshaws and qingqis by 385 percent, buses and mini buses by around 7 percent, trucks by 47 percent, tractors and lifters by 86 percent, vans and other such vehicles by 108 percent while the taxis have decreased by 36 percent.
Every 15th minute, a person meets an accident in this city, according to a study by Road Traffic Injury and Research and Prevention Center. A report compiled by the traffic police department reads that, from January 1 till August 15 this year, 126 people have been killed in traffic accidents while 177 have suffered considerable injuries.
The Road Traffic Injury and Research and Prevention Center says that the largest fatalities occur to those riding on motorcycles. Their latest 2015 report says that 87 percent of the bike riders don’t wear helmets and thus in case of an accident they receive injuries on the head that are potentially prone to become fatal.
The existing vehicular population in the city that on an average is increasing by 1,101 vehicles per day has around 60 percent of motorcycles, the report says, and the motorcycle involvement in the overall accidents is 67 percent.
“We don’t primarily intend to collect money through tickets. Instead, we hope that people should understand that abiding law is in favor of them. It will save their and others’ lives and money,” Soomro says as he finishes his duty with the VVIP squad.
“There should be separate lanes for motorbike, cars and buses on roads,” says Haroon, the survivor of an accident in which his leg was crushed by a mini bus. “I was going to the office on my motorbike when near Lucky Star in Saddar a car tried to overtake a bus on an under construction road and hit me in the way.”
Haroon is a staffer with the Sindh High Court. He describes that the mini bus ran over it as if he was some stone. “People stopped the bus. Reversed it. And then I was pulled out. Initially the doctors pointed out that I may lose my leg, however, fortunately, it was fixed. Still, I cannot walk easily.”
Gone, in the line of duty
Since the attacks on traffic policemen in the city have intensified once again in the city, the department has issued directions to all its personnel to wear bulletproof vests while on duty and carry arms with them. Soomro himself has a Glock on him.
“We have been advised to wear uniform at traffic section and take it off here when going back home,” he says, showing photo of his colleague head constable Muhammad Khan slain on duty in July this year at Abul Hasan Ispahani Road.
Since 1995, 59 traffic policemen have been killed on duty. Of these 38 suffered bullet wounds while 21 died in traffic mishaps. According to traffic police’s DSP Security Chaudhry Saeed Arain, the traffic police appears a soft target to militants because they are usually unarmed and remain busy with the traffic.
“Whatsoever, we have to perform our duty, be it unrest or peace, heatwave or rain,” Soomro tells. “Most of our personnel suffer psychological problems and respiratory diseases due to the nature of our work, yet we have no ample health facility to seek treatment.”
Prof Dr Mir Shabbir Ali, dean of the faculty of civil engineering and architecture at NED University, eyes road engineering as a major issue that causes traffic problem in the city. “In the rush hours, from 9 am to 11 am and 4 pm to 9 pm, the main arteries of the city get choked because some segments of the roads have not been designed to let the flow pass smoothly. There are more than 100 such black spots in the city,” he says citing a research project on traffic congestion by National Research Program for Universities.
The research project titled Prediction of Traffic Congestion in Karachi using Artificial Intelligence Techniques reads that due to the rapid construction of giant shopping malls, taller residential and commercial towers in the city, the traffic problem is going to worsen if no measures are taken to improve it alongside.
“Road traffic congestion is a critical problem [that’s] accelerated by an exponential increase in the number of vehicles and a high level of urbanization. Optimal utilization of existing infrastructure can effectively reduce the congestion levels without constructing newer infrastructure to accommodate the increased traffic volumes,” the research says.
It adds that the urban areas of the city experience more traffic volumes as compared to industrial areas. It highlights eight areas of the city that faces traffic congestion at rush hours nearly every day:
- MA Jinnah Road
- Rashid Minhas Road
- University Road
- II Chundrigar Road
- Korangi Road
- Karsaz Road
On the other hand, the traffic police department asserts that the following need to be addressed immediately to solve the traffic problem [to an extent]:
- Lack of coordination between stakeholders related to road and vehicles
- Narrow and damaged road networks
- Absence of lane markings and other road furniture
- Improper U-turns and the long distances between them that encourages one-way violation
- Illegal and self-made cuts on road medians
- Improper and self-made speed breakers
- Poor sewerage system resulting in stagnant water on the roads
- Lack of proper bus stops, bus bays and pedestrian bridges
- Defective traffic lights
- Encroachments on the roads and its pavements.