Last time when I asked the auto rickshaw diver not to compete in rash driving race with speeding Qualis, Hondas and Mercedes Benz while coming from IGI airport late in the evening, he looked back with widened eyes as if I was the most scared person in the world travelling on three-wheeler for the first time. Or for me, he was the most naïve, inexperienced driver in Delhi, who should pay heed to my meek advice.
It was 12:45 in the night. Among the few vehicles, there was a mad race of rivalry on the road. Honking Hondas, zippy Corollas and zigzagging Scorpios were competing to outwit one another on NH-8. Visualising the multiple injuries in case of fatal accidents and remembering the killing of five people mowed down by a speeding BMW eight years ago, I stroked the driver's softly, gesturing with a pleading face to slow down, as a Mitsubishi Lancer in top gear whizzed pass our poor auto rickshaw.
A pucca Delhiite, he would not listen. I was restless, as he gunned the small three-wheeler, instead of slowing down, to cross the green light, which was seen a few furlongs away. As I had no access to a back mirror, I was unsure of who was coming from behind or who would make a huge dash. In Delhi, you need to worry more about a terrible collision from behind that most of the drivers are unaware of.
At every traffic junction, I was extra vigilant and would hold the iron grill tightly, while a mere thought of a pedestrian or animal suddenly coming in the middle of road sent a chill down my spine. In such cases, I knew, reaction time is minimal, and if the driver is drunk or overpowered with a sense of competition, the consequences are always fatal. A strong whiff of alcohol hit my nostrils, as the driver turned to weight my disposition.
His "jo hona hai, wahi hoga (what will happen will happen)" theory echoed those of "haaza maktoob (it's in the destiny)" of the Arabian driver, who smiles back in my face, while on the mountainous terrain in the Sultanate of Oman when we had a lucky escape. Another familiar question was “are you scared?” hit my long-term memory. Though I did not like to be exposed of my weakness any more, I said that my children are waiting for me and I want to reach home safe and secure.
The driver was unmindful of 365 lives that have been lost this year due to deadly accidents at night. Besides, the moody driver was also unaware of the fact that more than 80 per cent of the victims of night-time accidents are pedestrians, which means the drivers are less at risk than the hapless walkers. More importantly, I gathered the courage to remind him that in a large number of accidents at night, the driver has been found to be in an inebriated state. I also told him that 1,893 drivers have been prosecuted for drunken driving this year, alone which drew a sarcastic smile from him.
Delhi roads are unsafe at night. Rich people or their progenies hit the road with new brands and models. During such hours, no traffic rules are followed, no one cares about intersections or lane changing regulations, but by enjoying speed and turns and applying sudden and abrupt brakes with loud grinding noises, their drivers make a mockery of life.
When we reached the outer Ring Road that night, there was no let up in overtaking and jumping of traffic signal. Then in a green-coloured Qualis, I could see some people having fun with bottles. Those young men were completely ignorant that Delhi witnessed 1,771 fatal accidents in 2003 in which 1,841 persons were killed, while in 2004 this figures were 1,782 and 1,832 respectively. I did not know why I reminded the driver that any person under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle found to have an alcohol level exceeding 30 mg per 100 ml of blood detected by a breath analyser shall be punished for the first offence with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to six months or a fine up to Rs 2,000 or both. He listened to me as carelessly as students do in a boring philosophy class.
The number of fatalities in road accidents, I continued, in Delhi were 1,966 and 1,978 in 2006 and 2005 respectively, and as many as 7,970 people were injured in 2006 compared to 7,991 people in 2005. Then I tried to ensconce the fear in his mind by telling that the Delhi Traffic Police issued more than 41 lakh challans in 2006 compared to about 39 lakh the year before. He started laughing at me as if these were the oft-repeated lectures that he had known for ages. In his indifferent ecstasy, he sat on his seat like a yogic posture of Baba Ramdeo. I wasn't scared anymore as we turned to the deserted road leading to me residence.
"Sir, you are…" he held back something unwanted that he wanted to address me with. His unfinished remark left me wondering if fear of road accident was my proclivity, then why was not it with this driver or drivers like him?
Is there any remedy for the ills of rash driving in Delhi at night? In spite of all the awareness campaigns, traffic rules are flouted. And the richer and the more educated you are the greater the chance of breaking the rules.
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