It was 2.30 am and minus 18 degrees. I was in Upper Austria at a party. We had a couple of drinks. My host ordered a taxi to take us home that was only half a mile away.
Such is the sense of responsibility — we should not endanger others by our irresponsible behaviour. On our roads, sadly, alcohol remains the biggest killer.
Alcohol affects our judgment and slows down our reflexes. So when we are behind a fast, hi-powered vehicle, the split second judgment required to avoid kerbs, judge distances, avoid pedestrians is impaired. We make mistakes, often fatal.
Unfortunately, every major trunk road in India is lined with English wine billboards luring motorists and youngsters. Long-distance truckers are the most susceptible victims. Alcohol, long hours of driving and overloaded trucks are a lethal combination.
I do not think there are liquor vends on highways in Europe. And even in the laybys where beer is freely available, drivers refrain from drinking. Apart from strict laws, it is the sense of responsibility and concern for other road users that keeps them away.
We do not seem to be conscious of this reality. We spit paan on the road from a moving Mercedes Benz, throw rubbish, play loud music, traumatize women drivers, use mobile phones, drive the wrong way and jump traffic lights. All these actions impact others.
The complete opposite is what I experienced in Japan. My friend who was suffering from cold and cough wore a mask covering his nose and mouth when we travelled by the metro.
Can we ever be sensitive citizens, not just self-absorbed consumers?
Another tragic but emerging factor is parents of 10-year-olds gloating that their offsprings can drive. Media stories trigger more to join the race. Immature but potential killers are being encouraged by foolish parents.
A survey showed that nearly 90% of the licences issued were channelled through touts. Kale, an illiterate from Haryana, got his learner licence for Rs 300. Another Rs 500 got him his confirmed licence without going through the mandatory tests. With almost no training, his uncle landed him a driver's job.
Handling of public transport vehicles, buses and school buses require special training and understanding of the mechanics, responsibility and art of driving. These buses break all the rules in the book. Most do not even have functional signals or lights.
Everywhere in the civilized world, driving is treated as a respectable profession. It is time we did the same in India.
There is an urgent need for educated and trained drivers trained by competent and registered driving schools and not by fly-by-night operators.
IRTE in collaboration with Hubert Ebner Austria, one of the leaders in Europe in road traffic education and with years of experience, was one of the first NGOs to take up the responsibility to train safe drivers. There is need for more such schools and international bodies to take up the cause.
On an average nearly 7-8 fatal accidents take place on Delhi roads everyday. Good and wider roads alone are not the solution. We need good intelligent road users who are not only conversant with the highway code and road traffic rules but use them diligently.
The solution is to acquiring proper driving skills and obeying traffic rules and be disciplined. Have you ever seen ants creating a traffic jam on their tracks? There are millions of them. They walk in single line. But they didn't go to school to learn that.
(Mike H Pandey is a conservationist and winner of three Green Oscars)