27 years ago, my maternal grandfather died in a road accident. 18 years ago, my mother’s cousin was killed by a motorcycle. Between 2007 and 2018, my father, who is a doctor, reported that severe accident cases are caused by youngsters. From promising futures being diminished, grooms dying before their weddings, athletes becoming disabled before an important tournament, and parents who are reluctant to pull the plugs of their brain-dead children, he has told me all kinds of stories.
In 2017, my mother met with an accident in Kochi. A biker with a pillion rider was overtaking two lorries and was literally touching the edge of the other side of the road. It was a hit-and-run case and my mother could not catch the sight of this person’s bike because she was facing the opposite direction. I wrote about this issue vehemently describing the situation in Kerala. Two years later, the situation hasn’t changed and am afraid that it might have become worse.
My office is a 30 minute ride from my house. I face 5 dangerous minutes at a traffic light intersection at S.N. junction, Tripunithura, Kochi. I face this massive WTF moment every day. Vehicles from the opposite direction start moving just when my side gets the green signal. At first, I thought that maybe the traffic lights had issues. I stopped at other the side of the road to check. Nope, it was working just fine. There were traffic police officers standing there idly, sometimes encouraging the riders to move. This happens almost every day. I was flabbergasted.
At one point one of the riders looked surprised when vehicles started moving. I signalled to him, “What are you doing?” with my hands. I am sure that he moved to avoid traffic.
Now, I learned about the importance of traffic light and the significance of each colour in lower kindergarten. We learned a song that I still remember by heart.
“Red light says ‘stop’
Amber light says ‘ready’
Green light says ‘go’
But… go carefully”
At the end of this song, we were told that learning this is very important because it is not just a ‘cute’ song but a matter of life and death. It doesn’t take a post graduate or PhD, but simple common sense to understand that violating the traffic lights means you will end up either on a wheelchair or in the mortuary. That is why the lesson is taught before we can read or write.
Fast-forward to 20 years later, I am having my driving lessons. My instructor in her charismatic voice explained to us that when we are driving, we have a lot of lives in our hands; ours, passengers and pedestrians. We undergo a rigorous driving test but then the road safety lessons and traffic rules are simply discarded the day after the exams. That’s how we Indians are trained right? To learn, to learn everything by heart for the sake of writing exams as opposed to applying it in our lives?
That’s the only explanation I could think of now that people are simply taking off despite the red signal just when the other side gets the green signal. I was told that this issue is there in several other places. My relatives suggested that I take a detour instead which raises the question: how long can we ignore this? I was also told that the traffic police tend to become tired by that time and they are only human.
India has the largest road network in the world with 5,603,293 kilometres, as of 2016. The construction of the road began from 2800 BCE till today. There weren’t enough facilities to maintain all of that until 1995 where the scenario started changing. The expanding population, globalisation and arrival of industries and other resources has prompted the necessity of more transport facilities. The automobile industry has been thriving in the nation adding salt to the wound as we see the air pollution in cities like Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. Travelling is an important facet to ensure the growing economy and development. It is impossible to not depend on one’s own vehicles.
It was reported in 2017 that 464,910 road accidents happened in India claiming over 1.4 lakh lives and injuring drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Which means that 16 people were killed and 53 people were injured every hour on the road.
As per a statistic, if India has a 2 million km long road network then in that, 1 million km long road network is poorly constructed. Which means that literally, 50% of roads are in poor conditions. This includes roads in urban areas near important institutions like schools, colleges, and hospitals. As per a report published in the Guardian, “According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), road traffic accidents kill more people around the world than malaria and are the leading cause of death for young people aged five to 29 – especially in developing countries. Each year up to 50 million people are injured in traffic accidents, globally.” India has the highest absolute number of recorded road deaths.
Most roads do not follow proper procedures like pavement thickness and tarring. In Kerala, roads tend to get spoiled in almost every rainy season. In Mumbai, the ground does not get enough water during the rainy season due to the thick pavements. Improper tarring might lead to the formation of slippery surface during heavy rains which very dangerous, especially for two-wheelers. I know that by personal experience because that is what is happening to roads here in Kerala.
In India, the biggest problem is with the lack of patience from people and road rage. When I was waiting for the green signal at S.N. junction, I could hear honking from behind me, from impatient people. Whenever I am facing a block, I can still hear the honking. One time, I stopped at a point to let pedestrians pass and even then, vehicles behind were honking. Well, what do they want me to do? Run them over? Meet with an accident? People take evasive action to avoid others while crossing the roads or while making a turn as opposed hitting the brakes. Sometimes I wonder, don’t they have a braking system in their vehicles? People tend to ignore the hand signal or indicators as well. Drivers apply sudden brakes while going fast leading to a series of accidents.
These are just some examples. During one of the orientation classes at my driving school, a guy openly said that he is not afraid of hitting people because the accident damage is affordable for him. He was being sarcastic of course, but it made sense at the time. Most of the accident victims include young men between 18-30 years of age. They tend to become adventurous on the road especially after getting a newly purchased motorcycle.
Kerala has been welcoming superbikes, modern trends like Harley Davidsons and other luxury four wheelers. It is mandatory for the superbikes to go above 60 km/h to get proper mileage. In Kerala, it is dangerous to go above 65 km/h on the highway due to the narrowness of the road and vehicles tend to travel closely packed. Most of the severe accidents are caused by two-wheelers.
The Hindu published a report about the accidents in India’s capital where there is a peak in the number of accidents. “Since 2011, Delhi has shown good record in terms of accident statistics gradually coming down. But this is not happening because of engineering faults being corrected but due to an increase in vehicular population. There is congestion on Delhi’s streets for as many as 14 hours on an average day,” said Dr S. Velmurugan, head of the Traffic Engineering and Safety Division, CSIR-CRRI.
Private buses and lorries drive rashly. Only recently a bus-lorry crash happened in Mumbai which killed 6 tourists. The drivers cannot see the vehicles around them beyond a certain extent and this is a fact. Also, the fact most of the bus/lorry drivers do not the get necessary rest and dues is a matter of another concern which should be addressed, which brings us to another question, apart from the proper construction of the roads, how much does the government invest to strengthen the authorities?
When it comes to road safety, I want to raise the question: why is it still seen as a less severe issue? Or, is this seen as a less severe issue? I know that the government is all topsy-turvy while discussing religion and caste and or when it comes to an actor who expresses dissent about the law and order situation. The government has invested over 6 billion rupees to build a statue. The government has invested a lot more to build temples.
I have seen debates after debates on important channels over saving religious sentiments, two Bollywood actors having a cat fight and other irrelevant issues. People might end up beneath another vehicle if this is the condition of the roads. Very rarely do people pay attention to these issues.
I believe that the law and order should upgrade. There are strict rules. Children in LKG are given important road safety lessons then what is going wrong?
I believe that the government should invest more to strengthen the authorities. I am sure it cannot be more expensive than the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel statue. Minimum salary of traffic police should be increased based on the amount of effort. They have to get enough resources to take a break when necessary and to be vigilant.
Functional CCTV cameras should be installed in major traffic junctions. Reflective stickers and milestones should be placed mandatorily in spots where there are no lights.
And, prosecute people who violate traffic rules this include traffic light signals. If a certain place cannot handle the presence of those vehicles which require a minimum speed which is over the maximum speed limit then the state should consider banning such vehicles or construct broader roads.
Why would Kerala state give sanctions for superbikes if the narrow roads can’t handle the same? The traffic police and authorities should pay more attention to the rash and negligent driving by two-wheelers. The helmet and seatbelts are mandatory for people in Kochi and this should be implemented as a strict rule all over the country assuming that authorities have relaxed this rule based on community-based sentiments. We can repair damaged hair easier than a damaged brain. The most ridiculous argument I have heard about using seatbelts is that they look ‘horrible’ while wearing it. Like, really?
Overspeeding should be treated as a disease which is as severe as malaria. Discipline should be implemented in the littlest ways if it means to save lives. At the end of the day, we cannot not depend on the modes of transport we are used to. Solutions are there for every problem. Find the right one.
I hope the authorities pay attention.