Why we must stop valourising ‘daredevil’ hill drivers | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Why we must stop valourising ‘daredevil’ hill drivers

Twenty-seven schoolchildren died in a road mishap in Himachal Pradesh. Blaming the driver would be the easiest thing to do

opinion Updated: Apr 12, 2018 16:42 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
KumKum Dasgupta
Hindustan Times
Indian villagers look at a wrecked school bus near Nurpur in Kangra district, Himachal Pradesh, April 10, 2018
Indian villagers look at a wrecked school bus near Nurpur in Kangra district, Himachal Pradesh, April 10, 2018(AFP)

At least 30 people, including 27 school children, were killed on Monday when a private bus fell into a gorge in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. “Prima facie, negligent driving and overspeeding are the main reasons for the accident,” an official said. Be it in the plains or in the hills, road safety is not something we care about, even though the number of vehicles and motorways are increasing rapidly. Unsurprisingly, India tops the list when it comes to road mishaps. According to a recent report of the International Road Foundation, the country records 10% of global road accidents with more than 1.46 lakh fatalities annually, which is the highest in the world. As a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration, a global high-level conference on road safety, India is committed to reducing the number of road accidents and fatalities by 50% by 2020.

When I read about the accident on Tuesday, I recalled a social media post — a medley of photographs — that often pops up on my timelines. It is about drivers in Himachal Pradesh, mainly those who drive the state roadways buses. The photographs (search for ‘bus drivers in Himachal’ on Google) fete the “expertise” of these drivers in negotiating the hill state’s treacherous dirt roads and hairpin bends, come rain/snow or shine. These photos are not photo-shopped; I have seen these drivers in action during my numerous visits to the mountains; they are indeed awe-inspiring. As one of the headlines on a website says: ‘21 Pictures That Prove Bus Drivers Of Himachal Pradesh Are The Best In India’.

They could be the “best” but lionising their “capability” is absolutely foolish, just like the famed ‘Mumbai Spirit’. These drivers don’t take these risks because they are the Rambos of the road. They do it because they have no choice. This is because some other department fails to discharge its responsibility of maintaining the roads and putting the guide rails (a barricade between the road and a gorge).

Blaming the driver for Monday’s accident would be the easiest thing to do. But that will not lead us anywhere.

Instead, the focus must be on improving road infrastructure and signages, patrolling, penalising rash drivers and investing in proper driver training to avoid such mishaps in the future.

@kumkumdasgupta