For a moment you feel like a celebrity when the flashbulbs around you go click, click, as you pass by with unsung glory! Moments later, you realise it was the cameras installed at the intersection you manoeuvred which caught you in action. And a chill crawls up your spine when you introspect on your act and realise that your really hadn't done anything wrong!
Did that ever happen to you on some of Muscat's roads? You are not alone, a section of motorists in Muscat have been complaining of witnessing unfair flashes from the radars installed at some traffic intersections in Muscat, despite following the rules. The experience of seeing security cameras flash as you drive by is an unsettling one, and motorists feel uncomfortable at the thought of being hauled up/fined for flouting traffic rules. They are also at a loss about how to explain themselves, if summoned, and wonder whether the cameras have been malfunctioning.
An ROP official from the IT division, in Seeb, when told about this problem, oft witnessed at some junctions in the city, maintained that there was no alert system in case of an offence as of now, as the offenders were recognised and listed manually by ROP personnel who go through the footage from security cameras, a time consuming process which makes it difficult to inform offenders immediately after an offence.
"The cameras function on a registration plate recognition principle. In case of a violation, they instantly capture the vehicle, but are not 100% efficient in recognising and penalising the vehicle automatically," elaborated the official, adding that the violators were required to check with the ROP and carry out sentences handed out to them, under the current system. Commuters could also log in and check their status regularly, on the ROP website, and the dedicated mobile app. carrying the date and time along with other details of the incident, he said.
Generally, all fines are paid and the sentences carried out when vehicle owners go for their annual registration renewal, and the database reveals the fines and penalties, if any, against them. However, violators are apprehended and dealt with on the spot if they flout the rules in the presence of police patrols, added the official.
Often finding themselves at the wrong side of the law, most commuters feel most offences at traffic signals were caused due to unaligned lanes. "At many prominent junctions across the city, the exiting and entering lanes are not aligned properly. Quite often we would move in a particular lane, thinking it would lead straight, only to find out in the end the lane only goes left. Hopelessly then as we would cut across to go straight, the camera would capture us, even though the signal for going straight is green. The junctions at Darsait (Lulu Hypermarket signal) and at Khoula Hospital junctions are two such prime examples," said Mohammed Amir, a frequent commuter on the Darsait-Muttrah route.
Refuting the claim, however, the ROP official clarified changing course from one lane to the other didn't mislead the camera to flash for red signal jumping, it rather flickers for cutting lanes, as lane-cutting was also an offence under the new traffic guidelines issued by the ROP. "Jumping lanes is the biggest reason for traffic menace. Understanding the traffic signs and knowing and remaining in your correct path-lane are a must," he said adding that the new cameras identify the vehicle lanes, as well, spotting and capturing any vehicle which cuts the lane.
Admitting that there was some confusion at some of the busy junctions across the city, with some lanes often closed or diverted, due to the ongoing construction across the city, another ROP official from the statistics department maintained that all the roads were clearly marked by the municipality and commuters were required to strictly abide by the demarcations.
"If in any instance, commuters find any lane or diversion unmarked, they should contact the ROP immediately, and they would intervene to resolve the issue and as well as have the particular pathway marked."
The official pointed out that, in most cases, it was the lack of traffic etiquette which led the people to committing traffic offences. Explaining the lane rule, he said the last lane at a junction was always meant to turn left. "One should never end up in the last lane if one intends to go straight ahead.
However, motorists deliberately use this lane as it is less congested than the main lane. Adjoining lanes that turn left are also clearly indicated, so it only needs better traffic sense or an ability to correctly read the traffic signage" he asserted, stressing the need for mass sensitisation on traffic discipline.
A section of motorists contacted by Hi Weekly regarding being flashed wrongly and being in doubt whether it amounted to an offence, said they have often been nervous about impending summons or fines when it was no fault of theirs. "Sometimes a camera would flash on me at some point and I would not be fined.
At other instances, I might receive a fine. This uncertainty causes worry," asked Adil, a resident of Wadi Kabir.
The ROP official responded that offenders have the right to ask for evidence before proceeding to pay the penalty. "Accused violators have the right to go through the video footage and pictures of the incident, for their satisfaction. They ROP has a dedicated division which could present the evidence to any commuter on request."
Describing the functioning of the camera to be fault-proof, the official said for red-signal jumping, the camera works on two lines: When the first line is crossed by any vehicle, the camera flashes once for warning; if the second line is crossed, it flashes again. Only when the second line is jumped, is one liable for the penalty. A video footage of the offence is also automatically recorded by the camera, which serves as evidence."
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