Every once in a few Thursday afternoons, I run into Samir Dalvie, who often comes up with interesting and challenging points of view that sometimes become fodder for this column. Thank you Samir for this one!
This Thursday, he spoke to me about the “Broken Windows” postulate, which I had read earlier in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”. This theory was first proposed by two social scientists, James Q Wilson and George L Kelling, in the March 1982 issue of “The Atlantic Monthly”.
To quote verbatim, “Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.”
Mumbai’s “Broken Windows” is clearly the complete lack of adherence to traffic laws, mainly by those who ride two-wheelers. Over the last few years, they have realized that they can do whatever they want…break red lights, ride in the opposite direction, use the pavements instead of roads, etc… and over the last couple of years, car drivers have followed suit with equal impunity. For example, after I finished the meeting at PDH, I was headed home. There is a small traffic light opposite the petrol pump towards Shivaji Park on Cadell Road. Not one person bothered to stop at that light… not one…at 3.00 PM in the afternoon.
Somewhere down the line, this has also fueled increasing road rage. Last Sunday, I was walking on the pavement outside The Palladium and got into a huge scrap with a car that wanted to enter the Palladium and just wouldn’t let us cross…finally I had to stand in front of the car so that my family could walk by…and there came a point, where the driver almost ran me over.
More importantly, the idea that you can get away breaking traffic laws almost all the time and that even if caught, you can pay off and walk away, seems to be percolating down to all walks of life. People now believe that they can pay off almost anyone, anytime for anything. Kickbacks in all walks of life have become the norm, and on one seems to bat an eyelid anymore, Mr. Hazare et al notwithstanding. Perhaps the increasing incidence of rape and abuse is also part of the same social milieu that is breeding an overall lack of fear for those who enforce the law.
If I were in charge, I would do just one thing. Enforce with a zero-tolerance policy, the white line rule. At every traffic light, irrespective of the time of day or night, when the signal turns red, each vehicle has to be behind the solid, unbroken white line. Whoever crosses this line will be fined. The fine will be a minimum of Rs. 5000. Three violations will lead to the license being impounded for a minimum of six months. At major junctions, policemen will enforce this rule…and use traffic cameras everywhere else.
We have seen this work! The police has been cracking down heavily on drunk driving and most people are generally scared to drink and drive, except for idiots like the couple that got caught on the JVLR last week. We need to do the same thing with the overall traffic situation.
We need to fix our broken windows quickly, before the whole building comes down!