One for the road
The enthusiasm surrounding the traditional manner of commemoration of Road Safety Week (RSW) has visibly waned. Unlike bygone years, there’s no distribution of leaflets (concerning Dos/Don’ts of traffic), display of banners/posters, free eye-screening tests, checking of illegal plying carriages, inspection of vehicles et al. Of course, there have been isolated calls for various measures and precautions to be adopted, with authorities on the prowl to ensure that traffic safeguards are enforced, but then, is there sincerity and commitment towards enhancing safety on our roads?
Roads users are not always the cause of danger on the streets. The design of some vehicles itself is questionable, considering how many have been virtual death traps for motorists. Hundreds have died while overtaking trucks and load carriers. Yet, no protective shield has been incorporated in new vehicles. This is particularly true along Goa’s mining belt where RSW measures seem to have gone on a holiday. Or, is the RSW limited to urban and city areas?
The RSW comes ahead of the proposed government plan to implement the helmet rule with effect from next month amid some opposition to its implementation, primarily because of a logistic reality, but safety comes first so we will endorse it. But, the use of helmets alone is not a guarantee of safety. There seems to be an obsession for helmets to the point that it appears that use of the helmet is the formula for safety on the roads however rashly one drives! It is not, let it be understood, a panacea for the ills that plague our roads and highways.
The litany of problems confronting road safety has been discussed piously in several forums. Yet, when it comes to systemic course-correction that will strengthen education, enforcement, engineering and emergency care, policymakers have been found seriously wanting. The carnage on our roads has exacted a heavy toll, and is today a full-blown public health crisis.
There’s need to restructure our roads, have bus bays, and a gradual gradient to the road shoulder, for starters. In the quest to asphalt roads, particularly a few days before panchayat or Assembly elections, the asphalting reaches a fever pitch with road contractors ignoring safety standards. The difference in surface levels has rendered motorists in particular as the worst victims, with roadside dwellers having a bumpy access to their garage.
In the absence of bus bays, enterprising bus drivers often stop buses enroute at the sight of a potential passenger, unmindful that their actions further narrow down the already narrow road, triggering a traffic bottle-neck. Strangely, the deviant behavior of bus operators is persistently ignored. At times, bus stops are located at road intersections, exposing the traffic cell’s planning bankruptcy. And, of course, what can we say when the traffic authorities themselves often violate their own rules and park in no-parking areas?
In its quest to proclaim RSW as a grand success, the traffic department ought to introspect and examine their conscious to ascertain whether driving licenses have been issued without a driving test by paying a bribe to an agent. This week, we hope that authorities also remember to conduct regular forays into Miramar where college youth ~ spoilt kids of the rich and influential, in the main ~ often try to “show off” their power at the wheel by participating in car races. Traffic culture and road safety is about displaying how we can be safe and get to our destinations on time, and not about showing our `expertise’ at the wheel.