NEW DELHI—With an increasing number of Indians using smartphones, the Delhi police are capitalizing on the ubiquity of messaging apps to communicate with the public. On Oct. 16, they launched a Whatsapp helpline for citizens to report traffic violations of the law, and according to them, it has proved a success.
“The response is very good and we have received 13,061 messages till Oct. 26, 2014,” the traffic helpline said in an email.
There are 48 million Whatsapp users in India, according to Whatsapp’s CEO. The Delhi police hope that Whatsapp users in Delhi will find it easy to use the popular app send videos, audio messages, and photos of rule breakers.
Chotten Lhamu, a commuter in a high traffic area of Delhi said should thought initiative would be a success because of the app’s popularity and how easy it is to use.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said.
The police already have a Facebook page with 197 thousand likes and a Twitter account with 213 thousand followers. Four years ago, they tested this citizen watchdog approach on their Facebook account to complement to their hotline number.
“The number of messages received on Whatsapp is much more than the messages on Facebook/helpline,” the traffic helpline said in an email.
In August, they also rolled out a Whatsapp number to help curb corruption, asking the public to gather evidence on police officers or other officials abusing their position.
India has one of the highest number of deaths due to traffic in the world, according to a 2013 World Health Organization report called “Global Status Report on Road Safety.” Based on data from 2010, an average of 366 Indians died every day due to vehicle accidents.
While the police are trying to improve this statistic by catching more violations, one NGO says it is a cultural issue that needs to be addressed.
“People have to be made safety conscious. We have to work on the psychology of people—road safety should become a lifestyle,” said Anurag Kulshrestha, director of TrafficZam, an NGO working on road safety in the city.
Kulshrestha was skeptical about the effectiveness of the Whatsapp helpline because he feels commuters lack a wholesome knowledge of traffic rules, and first need to be educated about them.
However the Whatsapp helpline said in the first ten days it received 482 messages related specifically to traffic violations, with the most being filed for improper parking.
The police are asking the public to report things like traffic violations, overcharging of taxi drivers, defective traffic lights, refusals from taxi drivers, traffic jams, and complaints about traffic enforcement.