I have blogged earlier about the fundamental urge of a policymaker to regulate when faced with a problem. Rash driving by the government-run public transport system drivers creates a major road safety problem across India. Confronted with this problem, the regulators step in - fines and other punitive actions, coupled with awareness creation and sensitization. And as we all know, these solutions while easy to announce are difficult to enforce into outcomes.
Therefore, more sustainable and readily implementable policies may be more effective in addressing such problems. How do we get those drivers into driving safely by encouraging them, nudging them, to do so? Is it possible to either align incentives or structure an appropriate environment that nudges them into compliance?
In this context, there are atleast two examples, which all Road Transport Corporation's (RTC's) in India would do well to emulate. I had earlier blogged about minibuses in Kenya with posters that told passengers to speak up if the driver drove dangerously, which resulted in significant reduction in accidents. Meru cabs, one of India's largest Radio taxi services, have automatic speed control alert systems that warns "Please slow down you are crossing the speed limit" on a voice-over and nudges the driver to slow down.
A combination of both, deployed across all RTC buses in the country, may have the potential to dramatically reduce driver rage related accidents involving these buses. A bulb, prominently displayed, and a voice-over mocking/chiding the driver (say, using a dialogue from a popular movie and imitating the voice of a vernacular movie star!), both connected to the speed control governor, can be a cheap and much more effective substitute for blunt regulations.
On similar lines, other road safety related problems like drunken-driving, helmet usage, and driving while using cell-phone may be more effectively tackled using insights from behvioural psychology operationalized using technology and process innovations. Deterrent regulations involving fines and other punishments are difficult to enforce, especially when the volumes being regulated are far beyond the capacity of the regulatory system. In fact, such solutions may be more relevant and useful for countries like India than developed countries (with their smaller population densities and relatively more disciplined regulatory systems, both on the side of regulators and the regulated).