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No full stops on India?s roads

There should be few surprises in a survey that says that nearly 70 per cent of those who obtain a driving licence in Delhi cannot drive.

india Updated: Jun 17, 2006 01:27 IST

There should be few surprises in a survey that says that nearly 70 per cent of those who obtain a driving licence in Delhi cannot drive. We dare say that this is an understatement — not just about the country’s capital city, home to the highest number of motor vehicles in India, but the country itself. Even a disinterested observer of motor traffic in the country knows that while most drivers do manage the basic mechanical skills of driving itself, most are blissfully unaware that there are things called traffic rules. Like Indian English, there are Indian driving rules — the right-turn indicator light to signal permission to overtake, or the heady high-beam in the eye from an oncoming car or truck whose unmistakable message is ‘get out of my way’ and so on. Many drivers will be amazed to know that stopping on a flyover is a no-no, that going the wrong way down a one-way road is a cardinal sin, emergency flashers are not meant to signal ‘I have stopped to take a mobile call’, or that you are meant to drive within a lane, not astride it.

We all know who is responsible for this state of affairs: first, the road transport authorities where licences can be obtained for a consideration. Actually, the only persons who fail driving tests are the smart alecks who refuse to pay the required nazrana. Second, the police, which enforce traffic laws on whimsy, with periodic drives against this or that infraction, which collects a lot of money but fails to either regulate or educate. Most of the time, drivers literally get away with murder.

Nearly 90,000 people died in road accidents last year — most of them younger persons — and four times that number were disabled. As a result, lakhs of people suffered the trauma of having a near and loved one killed or injured. Unlike death from cancer or heart disease, or earthquakes and tsunamis, each road accident death is avoidable. Tough action by the road transport authorities or the police will hurt neither vote bank nor caste, nor can transport unions insist on the right to mow down people at will. Of course, trying to alter course at this stage is not a simple task. But it can begin with re-educating drivers. A first step should be to explain the basics of good and bad driving to our self-taught drivers through a pamphlet or booklet distributed as widely as possible. The second step, after a grace period, should be a sustained and widespread effort, backed by punitive measures to get our motor traffic back on the straight and narrow.