What is the value of life in our society?¦
Our culture holds life sacred. Our ancient mantras resonate with prayers for safety; the ˜evil eye’ in our society has a staunch antidote in the old lemon-and-green-chilli bunting or a spot of kohl strategically placed, while in more posh settings, a simple ˜touch wood’ suffices.
One would think that this indulgence of the supernatural would also reflect in earthly prudence on the subject of the value and safety of human life. But, it does not. The numbers have it:
During the year 2011, there were around 4.98 lakh road accidents, which killed 1.42 lakh people and injured more than 5 lakh. This translates into one accident every minute, one accident death in less than four minutes. (figures obtained from June 2012 report published by research wing of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, available at www.morth.nic.in)
It gets more interesting with data on the types of vehicles that are found to be primarily responsible for causing accidents:
Here are the numbers that give out per cent share in total road accidents by type of motor vehicle involved (for 2011)
Trucks, tempos, MAVs, Tractors 22.4
Auto rickshaws 6.9
Cars, jeeps, taxis 21.3
Other motor vehicles 9.4
Other vehicles/objects 7.6
Per cent share of persons killed in road accidents by type of motor vehicle: (for 2011)
Trucks, tempos, MAVs, Tractors 27.4
Car, jeeps, taxis 17.6
Other motor vehicles 12.0
Other vehicles/objects 10.3
Per cent share or persons injured in road accidents by type of motor vehicles: (for 2011)
Trucks, tempos, MAVs, Tractors 21.6
Car, jeeps, taxis 20.4
Other motor vehicles 9.5
Other vehicles/objects 7.2
And thus, my concern goes out to all those who zip around on their two-wheelers without strapping their helmets on; ditto, seatbelts in cars. This article owes its existence to our ambivalence to committing to helmet (and other road safety) rules – say a virtual expression of bemusement, helplessness and sheer frustration I feel when I encounter the nth jaywalker, the nth lane-cutter, the nth wrong-side taker¦
I take a lot of things in my stride, but when it comes to misdemeanors on the road, I don’t mind cornering that guy on the wrong side just to give him a red eye. It’s almost amusing how we have roads, so many people and so many vehicles on those, and so many rules, and our disregard for these in direct proportion to these!
It seems the mess has spilled everywhere: infrastructure-wise, most of our cities are not planned; space accorded for traffic has shrunk thanks to illegal encroachment, while the number of vehicles has gone up.
Traffic system is in shambles since testing for issuance of driving licences is inadequate and many of these are issued indiscriminately, often illegally. Again, unlike in developed countries, there is no penalty system, wherein a person loses points off his licence for traffic misdemeanors. Perhaps the two biggest issues are the lack of speedy system of trials in such cases and fines levied being too paltry to be a deterrent.
Add to that a generally lax and largely opportunistic traffic policing system, lack of uniform and consistent implementation of laws and of course, independent India’s biggest bugbear “ corruption. The picture is complete, except for the general apathy of the public towards laws and rules. I daresay all our traditionalism seeks rebellion in cocking a snook at that ˜irrereverent’ traffic light. For the most part though, it is plain stupidity.
One such example is the exemption extended to women under the helmet rule. While this exemption totally begs a cogent explanation, the Sikhs are exempt on account of their turbans. I wonder if some innovative design solution can provide answer to this one. As for the women, though, I don’t know if safety’s loss is fashion’s gain. I know that it should stop.
Another one is pure, criminal apathy: the one about not giving way to an ambulance. One incident is particular burned onto my memory – on a trip to Kanpur from Lucknow, we were stuck in a huge traffic jam for almost two hours, during which we saw an ambulance struggle to make a way through to a nearby hospital. There was a bevy of vehicles that were quite literally reluctant to give even an inch of space to the vehicle which was obviously dealing with an emergency.
Such apathy deserves the sort of treatment reserved for criminals and psychopaths. Police cannot be everywhere at all times. For a civic society to function, each one must stand up for the other when the time comes. I don’t think that here, we can simply blame it all on the government and move on. The danger is to our lives, all of us. While we chase progress and development, we cannot afford for it to diminish our collective conscience.
A few suggestions come to mind:
Install a strongly deterrent penalty system: raise fines by say, ten times.
Ample parking space should be made a mandatory requirement for any infrastructure project to be authorized “ the guidelines should be standardized across the country taking variables into consideration.
Special plazas for parking and vehicle breakdowns should be constructed.
Tests for issuance of driving licences should be made far more comprehensive and stringent. Also, a points-based system of merits and demerits should be brought into effect.
A lot of traffic rules are broken due to sheer ignorance about them. Authorities could install appropriate signages at suitable places, while these topics should be included civic studies curriculum taught by schools.
The community has a major role to play in making roads safe. Apart from helping raise awareness about road safety and traffic rules, members of the community should be invited to step forward and shoulder greater responsibility.
Why not invite senior members past retirement age (with suitable credentials, professional and personal) to form civic panels that help fix responsibility for road accidents, under the supervision of a court of law? This way, we can use their vast experience, while also giving them an active role to play in the society.
This would also ensure that overworked traffic police has help at hand and alleged extortionist behavior on the part of this machinery can be effectively curbed. A citizen panel should be allowed to probe cases, and retired judges be made to head these panels, even as verdicts are handed out by courts of law. Perhaps, even post-retirement, judges should be allowed to serve in this capacity for two years, of course, on a voluntary basis.
This need for achieving a better state of affairs had long been in the running; it’s not some problem that raised its head just yesterday. But, I think that as a community, it’s now time we got on our toes and shook off the complacency that seems to have settled in. After celebrating the 65th Independence Day, it is time to take a cue from earlier generations who gave us an independent country and prepared the ground for us to enjoy this freedom, and ask ourselves what we are doing with their sacrifice, dedication and contribution.