Can the tragic death of Cyrus Mistry be a gamechanger in the way we look at driving and safety rules?

06 Sep,2022

 

 

Introducing ‘With Apologies to None at All’, a new fortnightly column by Vikas Mehta

 

By Vikas Mehta

 

Vikas MehtaI do not believe in coincidences, but last Sunday evening, I had stumbled upon a report by the Ministry of Transport on road accidents in India for the year 2020. As I was glancing through the same, my phone flashed the news of the tragic death of Cyrus Mistry in a road accident, near Mumbai.

 

The report was for 2020 and it had some chilling statistics. Even though the report boasted of a decline in road accidents by 18% and a decline of almost 13% in number of people killed in road accidents (not to forget that 2020 was the year of lockdown and restricted travel and road commerce), the absolute numbers were mindblowing. More than 3.66 lakhs reported accidents. More than 1.2 lakhs fatal accidents. More than 55% of the accidents happened on national and state highways and, hold your breath, 65% of accidents happened on stretches of straight roads. The report mentions a mix of traffic rules violations, driving without valid driving license and non-use of safety devices as the main reasons for road accidents.

 

This was startling for me. Does a valid licence holder in India, know more than a non-driving licence holder? What extra or more safety precaution does a valid licence holder is aware of, or takes? My contention is actually the opposite. A valid licence holder thinks that s/he is now the king of the road and has the licence to do anything s/he pleases.

 

And then came the news that the vehicle of Mr Mistry was over-speeding. That it tried to overtake another vehicle from the wrong side. That the passengers at the back were not wearing seat belts. I am sure that the person driving the vehicle had a valid driving licence. But that person, it seems, was flouting traffic rules and the passengers at the back were not using safety measures. If some of the most distinguished, well-educated people in India were responsible for such oversights then imagine the behaviour of the more common man.

 

And now ask yourself. How many road safety rules are you aware of? Did you pass an oral test about driving rules when you got your licence? Was there an oral test at all? Were you given any rule book? Do you know the speed limits on the roads you frequently use? Can you understand road signs?

 

Do you know how to use a traffic circle? When to enter it? Do you know that even when you change lanes you should signal the same? Have you heard of a blind spot which even a side rear view mirror cannot cover? What is the rule for joining the traffic from a side road? Do you know that you cannot stop or park your vehicle near a crossing or a turn or a bend in the road?

 

These were some of the questions that I faced when I went for my driving tests abroad. In fact, I was not even allowed to take a test till I went through more than 30 driving classes and attended sessions on driving rules. This is after I had been driving in India for more than 12 years. And I was failed five times before I was deemed ready to drive on the roads.

 

So, do not feel guilty if you do not know the answers to above questions. Because driving licence in India means testing the ability to drive engaging gears. Often you need not even have that capability. Yes, I have heard that things are changing. Automated tests which have no human interference or influence and which lay a strong emphasis on you understanding rules have started in key cities. But let us not forget that currently most of the drivers on road just know the basics of driving from point A to B. Period. The first step in reducing road accidents is in educating the current drivers about the driving and safety rules.

 

Do not also feel guilty because my practical experience shows that even the traffic police are not well versed in traffic rules. They look at some basic violations like overspeeding, wrong side driving, driving under influence of alcohol, helmets, three to a two wheeler, registration of vehicles and maybe one or two more.

 

So, in a country where increase in sale of vehicles is a benchmark of economic growth; where the transport ministry is claiming to build 100 kms of roads per day, isn’t it high time that all drivers are given a crash course (pun unintended) in safe driving and driving rules? For, if I am not even aware that what I am doing is wrong, how can I correct it?

 

No, I am not talking about public service advertisements. Nor am I talking about some government drive of distributing leaflets or sending SMSs. I think that the communication industry along with the transport ministry must work out a comprehensive road rules and road safety education programme targeting all licence holders. Two-wheeler drivers, private vehicle drivers, heavy vehicle drivers, everyone must be sensitised to road rules. Call in all license holders for a programme. It may be voluntary but if the compliance is low then it needs to be enforced. If they do not attend even after three notices, cancel their licence. In the past, we have very successfully carried out literacy and adult literacy programmes. These were done when technological advances and innovations were nowhere at the level of toady. And these had good measure of success. So, why not a road rules and safety communication programme? The economic loss to the country in terms of road accidents is in billions of dollars per year. If a communication drive can reduce that, if it can reduce fatalities, then it’s not such a crazy idea at all.

 

In a country, where we are willing to debate and maybe enforce some sort of population control measures, isn’t it time to think of a traffic safety and traffic rules education plan at a countrywide level? If we are determined to phase out carbon emission vehicles by 2040 then why can’t we look at increasing road safety, increasing awareness of road rules?

 

Minister Mr Nitin Gadkari has taken some bold and revolutionary steps in road and surface transport. Is he willing to pick up this gauntlet?

 

Vikas Mehta is a senior business and marketing strategy consultant and educator. He is based in Dehradun. This column will appear every other Tuesday. His views here are personal

 

 

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