At a discussion group I was asked how our cities would be able to function with the increasing crowding by cars, bikes, trucks and other motorised vehicles. I replied that things would get worse before they got better and that the problem was not so much the number of vehicles but the terrible management of the traffic. I also suggested that more traffic cops was not the solution but that the new technology of GPS, remote sensing, drones and artificial intelligence, that are already being used in vehicles but would soon have to be applied to traffic management.
We know that flying a drone is literally child’s play and we could soon have an eye in the sky as a drone or a satellite that could spot a car or bike as soon as it went through a red light or was over speeding. The new electronic system would not also need any traffic cops to issue the fines because the technology already exists where the GPS would sense a tiny chip imbedded into a car, know the name of the owner and debit the fine from a designated credit card. Driving would be much less fun when all traffic behaved itself with no speeding, no driving in the wrong lane, no driving up one way streets, proper stopping at all the red lights et cetera, but it would give a chance for the pedestrians and cyclists to also use the roads. Electronic devices inside a car could send out a signal if the driver was drunk or sleepy and the remote controller in the sky could make it stop. The auto companies would sell cheaper and less powerful vehicles because no driver would have much chance to speed.
The police force of the cities would need far fewer traffic cops even for VIP duties, the streets would be safer and movement from one part of a city would become much quicker without the congestion caused by impatient and irresponsible drivers. Like the air traffic controllers (ATCs) at any airport, ATCs could manage the roads and direct all the drivers to take the quickest route to their destinations. A further step would be for such an ATC to roll out a moving electronic traffic plan for all the main roads where the drivers need to only find an empty slot for their vehicles and then follow the commands with the minimal effort or frustration.
All the technology exists but the traffic police in every city will have to set up a system for implementation. A fairly expensive control room with computer savvy technicians would make most of the traffic cops redundant but they could be profitably redeployed to make crime less rewarding. George Orwell warned us that Big Brother would be watching us one day and that day is now not far away. It would definitely be a bit boring if all the risks are removed from the brave new world but it would also be a much safer world when drivers cannot have all the fun.
The author is the region’s most celebrated automobile columnist
A version of this article appears in print on February 20, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.