Monday, August 9, 2010

Delhi Police logs on to Facebook to nail errant drivers

THIS city is famous for its snarled traffic and infamous for its unruly drivers — aggressive rule-breakers who barrel through red lights, ignore crosswalks and veer into bicycle or bus lanes to find open routes.

Now, the city’s overburdened traffic police officers have enlisted an unexpected weapon in the fight against dangerous driving: Facebook. The traffic police started a Facebook page two months ago, and almost immediately residents became digital informants, posting photos of their fellow drivers violating traffic laws. As of Sunday, more than 17,000 people had become fans of the page and posted almost 3,000 photographs and dozens of videos.

The online rap sheet was impressive. There are photos of people on motorcycles without helmets, cars stopped in crosswalks, drivers on cellphones, drivers in the middle of illegal turns, and improperly parked vehicles. Based on the pictures, Delhi Traffic Police have issued 665 tickets, using the licence plate numbers shown in the photos to track vehicle owners, said Delhi’s joint commissioner of traffic, Satyendra Garg.

Despite some concerns about privacy, and the authenticity of the photos, the public’s response has been overwhelmingly positive, he said. Mr Garg said the Facebook page never instructed people to take pictures of lawless drivers. “We wanted a forum where people could express their views and suggest changes,” he said on Friday.

With just 5,000 traffic officers in this city of 12 million people, the social networking site is filling a useful role, he said. “Traffic police can’t be present everywhere, but rules are always being broken,” Mr Garg said. “If people want to report it, we welcome it. A violation is a violation.”

Mr Garg acknowledged that it was possible photos could be manipulated to incriminate someone who was not actually breaking the law. But, he said, drivers can contest the tickets if they feel they were wrongly issued. The police advise residents not to let personal animosity influence their photo-taking.

Some city residents have applauded the effort. “This is a good use of police resources,” said Vijyant Jain, a 27-year-old manager with Orange Business Services, who drives a minivan.

(New York Times News Service)

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