In the last one week, three different incidents of road fatalities — one in Mumbai and two others in Delhi — proved once again that road travel in India has become a life-threatening exercise and that the fear of law just does not exist among most citizens. In Mumbai, 27-year-old Nooriya Yusuf Haveliwala, who was in an inebriated state, lost control of her SUV and rammed into a biker and a traffic constable and killed them. In Delhi, three teenagers were killed when the driver of their overloaded school bus lost control of the vehicle which toppled over. In the second mishap, a State-run bus crushed two students, 16 and 13 years, when their motorcycle slipped and fell under its wheels.
The three accidents together tell the story about all that has gone wrong in our road management system. The rot starts at the Road Transport Office that issues driving licences. Everyone in India has a story to share about how easy it is to acquire licences: engage a tout, land up for the driving tests (if you can call them tests that is) and in no time you have the right to muscle your way through the already choked roads. In the Delhi case, how did a 16-year-old manage to get a licence? Or did he have one at all? Sometimes, parents are also to blame because they themselves hand over their vehicle keys to their children.
If drunken driving is a problem, being sober also does not ensure that road etiquette will be followed. Add to these issues another set of problems: many vehicles are not roadworthy and overloaded, density of vehicles and their speed differentials. The accident numbers reveal the crisis we have at hand: according to the National Crime Control Bureau, road accidents have increased by 6.1 per cent during 2007 (the last data available) compared to 2006. In 2009, the World Health Organisation said more people die in road accidents in India than anywhere else in the world, including China. Calling road fatalities an ‘epidemic’, the WHO said, these would become the world’s fifth biggest killer by 2030.
Severest punishment for violating traffic laws and stricter procedures for giving out licences must be enforced. However, even these will fail if drivers don’t behave less boorishly. We need to jettison the mindset that the right of road goes to the one who can be the rowdiest.
A tough ride in free-for-all India.