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Dance of danger on the roads

The cost of our culpable lethargy is loss of precious human lives

Early in the morning, we tried crossing a near-empty Kochi road, the narrow carriageway divided into two lanes by Metro rail pillars. Following the “keep-left culture”, like any prudent person, we were eyeing the vehicles speeding from a distance to our right side. At half the lane, from darkness emerged a scooter to our left, wrong side, a bolt from the blue. Taken aback, we narrowly escaped. The scooter, too, stopped. We asked the gentleman why he had resorted to such dangerous methods, avoiding a slightly longer ‘U-turn’. His classic reply, “These days one shouldn’t help anyone; I stopped only for you!”

Some time ago, there was a hue and cry after a motorcyclist fell into a pit dug by a government department and got run over by a bus. A discerning walk through any road could identify a number of killer potholes, dangerously uneven surfaces and dilapidated drains and slabs. Who cares!

Bernard Shaw is right, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”

After a tragedy, the media make a noise but seldom do we follow up or do a stitch in time. The cost of our culpable lethargy is loss of precious human lives, apart from overburdening the fragile healthcare system and the precarious exchequer. In God’s Own Country itself, nearly 4,000 people die and over 50,000 are seriously injured in 40,000 road accidents every year.

The exponential increase in the number of vehicles — consequent chaotic driving and parking — makes us indifferent to traffic rules. Footpaths are all encroached upon or too filthy to walk. Pedestrians remain the most marginalised and vulnerable, whose very existence is challenged.

A sensible, integrated and time-bound system — addressing these issues from the initial conception of the road itself — is called for. This would ensure designing of safe roads, timely maintenance, and scientific licensing, regulation and enforcement that is technologically in-built.

We need to think out of the box. The gravity of the problem, involving the lives of tens of thousands of hapless victims and their poor families, warrants empowering the road safety commissioner with executive magisterial powers under provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code for the due fulfilment of the exigencies of road safety. The officials should be made squarely responsible for any lapse in this regard. Based on any complaint and information about any deficiency on any road that has the potential to cause an accident, the commissioner should act emergently directing the custodian of that road, whichever department, to cause the deficiency to be rectified forthwith to avoid danger.

There is no reason the above should not be an effective solution to such a baffling humanitarian problem. Complaints, information and directions could all be communicated electronically and notified on a participatory website that can be accessed by citizens and authorities.

Simple solutions often elude us. Most road accidents are man-made and preventable, if only we take care to tighten enforcement of rules, fill a pothole, put up a board of caution or mirror warning incoming vehicles. All these hardly require huge funds or time for sanction/execution.

(The author is a former IAS officer)

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:02:51 PM |

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