CHENNAI: With a striking increase in the number of ‘smartphone zombies’ and headphone using walkers in the city in the last four years, the percentage of pedestrians who are experiencing ‘distracted walking’ has increased, say city’s traffic cops. While, most pedestrians (between 17 to 35 years) agree that they use their phones while crossing the road, it’s a huge challenge to the men who have the herculean task of ensuring their safety. City Express travelled through the areas where pedestrian crossing is high and caught up with traffic inspectors and head constables to know more.
The 100 feet road-Vadapalani signal junction is packed with pedestrians especially during peak hours. As we walk towards the police booth, we met traffic constable, who told us about distracted pedestrians. “Over 200 to 300 pedestrians cross every single signal. I don’t understand why they are so impatient. They’ll wait for two minutes for the vehicles to stop. If it doesn’t, they quickly sprint towards the other side…even when vehicles keep coming! They hardly have their eyes on the signal to check if it’s their turn to go.”
As we observe, a bunch of college students hastily cross the road with their eyes glued to their phone and take a quick glimpse of what’s ahead of them once in a while. But, how safe is a quick glimpse? “Their full concentration has to be on the road while crossing. Motorists often complain about such pedestrians who cross roads and use phones and head phones,” he rues.
Kumaresan, traffic inspector, Vadapalani, says though pedestrians enjoy first priority in traffic planning, they follow rules only when close to a traffic police. “Almost 50% of pedestrians will observe rules if we are around. If they don’t find us in the immediate vicinity, they make a dash for it! I don’t understand why people don’t care about their safety? We try our best to spread awareness on safety rules for pedestrians. We have regular workshops in residential areas and schools. But, ultimately, it’s in their hands to follow the rules and have self-discipline,” he says and makes a mike announcement. ‘Pedestrians please step back and give way for the vehicles’, he says and we notice five out of the thirty standing at the signal stepping back.
“See, this is the state. Most of them have been so engrossed using their phone that their concentration wasn’t on the announcement that I just made. How can you be safe when you don’t concentrate while crossing the road?” he avers.
Though there has been a marginal decrease in the number of accidents that have been recorded on motorist-pedestrian mishaps in the city, pedestrians remain victims of most accidents. “The use of these gadgets is fueling accidents. I see people using the GPS maps while walking on the road…we have cases of accidents because of this,” he reveals.
Liberty point crossing, Gokulam point, Ambedkar point, Central and Anna Salai are other pedestrian hubs that are diligently watched by traffic police day and night. “We have constables everywhere to ensure the safety of pedestrians and clear any unprecedented traffic block. But, the point is…when will they learn to obey rules? Almost 40% of pedestrians jump over medians and don’t use zebra crossings,” he shares.
With a rise in cases of jaywalking, traffic inspector of Ashok Nagar, Sampathbalan shares an interesting observation. “While travelling alone, a lot of women use the phone to have a sense of safety and support. But the mistake is that their concentration is scattered and their senses aren’t alert,” he explains. “So, cases of phone and chain snatching have increased. When a vehicle approaches them, they aren’t even aware of it.”
Shedding light on the increase in the number of accidents, he says, “Jaywalkers and median jumpers are the main cause for such freak accidents. And to add to this, they use their phones. Though there are foot-over-bridges, they don’t use it.” Citing such cases of jaywalking, the central median close to Tambaram Bus stand has been elevated. “Since we have a lot of people from the outskirts landing here every day, they aren’t aware of the rules in the city and jump medians. Even city dwellers do this. But, after raising the median, the cases have reduced considerably,” he shares.
What can be done? “Awareness drives are aplenty. Safety cannot be achieved by just our intervention…it’s also the social responsibility of the people who travel on the road. But, we are trying our best,” adds Kumerasan.