Mumbai’s Uphill Battle Against Drink Driving: How Safe Are The City’s Roads?
“It will be better inside bars instead of behind bars,” warns a rather catchy Mumbai Traffic Police slogan. The city’s cops have been on a tenacious decade-long crusade to fight drink driving.
Recognising that most fatal accidents could be linked to motorists who were driving drunk, the ‘Do Not Drink and Drive’ campaign was launched by the city’s police in 2007. And from nakabandis to billboards, ad spots on television and radio and even gifting roses to motorists, the campaign seems to have gone all-out to inspire responsible driving in the city.
It is difficult to escape the police, says Milind Bhambre, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Mumbai. Nakabandis are set up across all of the city’s 34 traffic zones every night with each zone having around two breathalysers. To add an element of surprise the location of these keep changing and a woman officer is always present to ensure that everyone is analysed, he explains.
This is a sentiment echoed by many residents as well.
“With family members and friends, I, personally, have seen a difference. Growing up, drinking and driving was something that was considered normal. No one thought it was a big deal. But now, people do not do it because they’re scared of the police,” says Trishla Pareek, a resident of South Mumbai.
This year with only 93 cases registered, the number of offenders caught due to drink driving on December 25 and December 26 has fallen by more than half compared to 2015 and on New Year’s eve around 565 people were challaned for drink driving, down by 20 per cent compared to 2015’s 705.
Does this imply that the campaign has been successful? It is difficult to say.
As of December 28 according to police data, 68,597 people have been booked for driving under the influence of alcohol since 2013. This year itself, to date, 18,938 individuals have been caught. However, there is no specific data available separating accidents caused specifically due to drink driving from the total figure of road collisions.
But if there is one thing that a lot of locals agree on, it is that it has created some change in mindsets.
“The traffic police’s campaign has definitely created deterrence. It is difficult to say how much success it has had and it’s obviously not 100%. However, I would say that there has been a shift in attitude and behavior among the city’s residents. It has most definitely entered their consciousness,” says Ashok Datar, a Mumbai-based urban transportation expert and the chairman of the Mumbai Environmental Social Network, a think tank working on urban issues.
Fortifying the System
The Mumbai police have been trying to make the system of catching drunk drivers as airtight as possible. This year, digital breathalysers have been introduced to root out the possibility of bribery.
“We have acquired 56 of these new breathalysers and are in the process of procuring 17 more. These are completely tamper-proof and instantly capture a photograph of the person and send it along with the analysis of their breath to our servers,” says Joint Commissioner Bhambre.
However, the problem in Mumbai, according to Ashok Datar, is not limited to drink driving. He believes that the large numbers of accidents are a consequence of rash driving and increasingly limited space.
“The problem is that the issues are numerous and the responsibility is huge. The traffic police are starved of resources and road behavior is terrible—people run lights, speed and parking increasingly encroaches on the roads and narrows the already congested space,” he says.
“So much money is being spent on building these roads. What we need is mind space. There aren’t enough people working on things link improving road discipline,” he adds.
Mumbai’s big worry is that with 23,468 accidents in 2015, it is the leader when it comes to road accidents in the country, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. However, at 2.6 deaths per 100 road collisions, accidents in Mumbai cause the least number of fatalities, as opposed to Delhi which has the highest number of road accident-related fatalities with a 20.1 to 100 ratio of deaths. It is clear that a lot remains to be done for Mumbai’s roads to become truly safe.