Need Mirrors On Roads

With narrow roads and increasing traffic navigating your way through the mess is a risky job. Aamir Amin Nowshahri argues how lack of driving sense adds to commuters’ woes

Traffic-Jam-in-SrinagarI remember the time when a drive from my home to the city centre would be a pleasant experience – no traffic jams over the entire journey, the luxury to enjoy beautiful scenes around, and most important, no distractions to take your mind off the road.

That was some fifteen years ago. Today my office is located in the same city centre and the daily commute is one big hassle, and reaching office in time is one big achievement. The volume of traffic plying on the roads has grown immensely in the said period.

One cannot doubt that the exponential rise in the number of cars on the roads has put pressure on the Traffic Police Department to perform its duties satisfactorily. Despite best efforts, the department is ever short of hands. The recent introduction of traffic lights in the city also does not seem to have made things any better, either for the commuters or the agencies. The lack of adequate parking spaces in the city is also a factor that needs to be taken up on priority.

There is another important aspect which adds to the chaos that we witness on the roads every day. Sadly, we have nobody but ourselves (yours truly included) to blame for it. Navigating the roads requires skill as well as sense. We may have the skills to take control of the ABC (Accelerator, Brake, Clutch) of driving, but we seem to be weak and ignorant when it comes to the sense part of it. Take a closer look around and we see brazen violations of traffic rules by individuals.

Mobile phones appear to be the worst enemy of driving sense. With exception and all due respect to those who use hands-free devices while driving, it seems as if the world will come to an end if drivers do not take that call while on the wheels, not realizing that the person they are subjecting to the greatest danger is none other than themselves. Such people are not even considerate about their own well being, how can one expect them to care about other’s safety – leave alone traffic rules.

We also seem to be a community that does not realize how much discomfort we cause to others through our actions.  Parking at odd locations (read middle of the road) for an “it’ll take me two minutes” job is like a norm here. Once the car is locked, watch batteries seem to die, the sense of responsibility vanishes and the promised 120 seconds take so much longer, earning curses for the drivers (and sometimes, even their past generations) from those affected.

Traffic lights are a recent phenomenon in this city, but it seems we are not keen to adapt to changes meant for our own good. The colours of the lights – and the messages they convey – appear to have no significance at all, and beating the digital counter with a rush of adrenaline seems like an achievement for many: again an instance of not caring for our own lives and creating nuisance for others (most of whom would probably be obeying rules as they should be).

A “we-own-the-road” attitude of public transport operators is probably the biggest factor contributing to the chaos on the roads (more so in areas having narrow and congested roads), but there is an even bigger problem; making them realize that they do not. Try talking sense to them and you’ll regret why you even opened your mouth. However much we go for road widening, they will still “own” the roads (with all the extra space available to them) and the mess will only get messier.  The biggest service that any organization or individual can do is to try and make them aware of their actions and the repercussions thereof. The race for another round between the designated end points of the approved route has often cost many lives; for amounts as low as ten rupees.

Many of us would have witnessed heated arguments on the roads between drivers for issues as trivial as a scratch on the bumper. One gets the feeling that the shimmer on a piece of plastic is more valuable than the life of a person, for drivers seem to be ready to kill when road rage is at its peak.

Two wheeler riders present a different picture all together. Wearing helmets seems like an insult, especially for young people who get a kick out of challenging the rules of physics in the middle of a crowded road (Only they and their creator know who they are trying to impress). The recent death of a youth performing stunts on a city road should come as an eye-opener to all. Only time will tell how well we learn the lesson.

The irony is that while we are quick to point out mistakes committed by other drivers and criticize them for the same, we fail to take into account how we ourselves are doing the same. What is worst is that breaking the rules seems to have turned into a contagious infection; we take no time in copying what others are doing – mostly wrong, rarely right!

Governance is a participatory process. There is no doubt the government has to play a vital role when it comes to solving the problems being faced by ordinary citizens, but we as individuals also have to take some steps at our own level and make small but significant contributions towards their redressal. After all it is the question of our own safety which should not be compromised at any cost.

*The writer is working as Information Assistant with PIB Srinagar.

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