Monday, 15 December 2014

The Road that Should be Taken

I read the paper this morning and I learn of yet another accident on the Mumbai-Pune highway. I turn a few pages and there's an article on how an underage driver rammed his car into a tree. By the time I read the last page, I have already read several stories of innocents dying due to the recklessness of one or more people on the road. The horrific accounts of motorists and pedestrians becoming victims of road accidents has compelled me to blog about the importance of road safety.

Today, I'm going to show you a road that you should be walking on. After deep deliberation with my parents, colleagues and friends over this matter, I have made a list of measures that would improve road safety by leaps and bounds in India. Many of these are inspired by the systems in place abroad. I have hand-picked those that I have found are simple but very effective in the long run. Here they are:-

1. Separate the main roads from the footpath and cycling lanes by a "green lane" of trees or bushes


Other than making our roads a lot greener and cleaner, this measure will keep the cars and trucks from injuring pedestrians. I have noticed that in majority of our residential areas, we don't even have footpaths, let alone cycling lanes or trees!

2. Let pedestrians have the right of way

I'm sure most of us haven't even heard of "the right of way"! Before the driving examiners finish each driving test, they should test whether the candidate knows about the pedestrian's right of way. Pedestrians could be gullible, they may break rules, but nothing gives a motorist the justification to ride a vehicle over them. Even if somebody crosses the road on the wrong traffic signal and avoids the zebra crossing, the cars and bikes must stop to let him/her cross. No appointment/movie/exam is more important than somebody's life! Always remember that you can make another appointment, book another ticket, take the exam later... but you can never get a lost life back.

3. Automate fine-collection from speeding vehicles


This one's straight out Dubai! My parents told me about this amazing system they have there - every road has a speed-detecting camera tracking the speed and registration numbers of each vehicle. Every time a vehicle breaches the speed limit, the fine is automatically collected from the credit card linked to the registration number. It will be expensive to implement this, but if done properly, this will deter all the rash drivers.

4. Make helmets mandatory for pillion riders also

If there is any law that I find incomplete, it is the one that only requires the biker to wear the helmet. The pillion rider is often ignored. Another thing people need to understand is that helmets are for their own protection, not for keeping them cool or their complexion un-tanned or their hair untouched. "It will ruin my hairdo" is a poor excuse to not wear a helmet. At the end of the day, it's a choice between losing your hairstyle and losing your life.

5. Overtake only from the right... and only after flashing an indication

The thing that scares me most about driving is being taken over from the left. I often wonder how some drivers get their licence. It's maddening enough to drive in the city traffic, but when an errant vehicle overtakes me from the left, I know my life is not in my hands but in the hands of a greater power. It is not wrong to overtake, but there is an etiquette. One must only overtake from the right and only after using the dipper twice to indicate the wish to overtake.

6. Wear the seat belt!


This golden rule is flouted so openly that even the fines that a traffic police collects does not deter people. Tragedies can be a lot under control if we all wear our seatbelts. The seat belt holds your body so firmly that it protects you from any unexpected jerk. Many parents in India carry their toddlers and babies on their laps when they travel in a car. This can be dangerous for both the kid and the parent. Every person (even babies) should have their own seat. Car Seats come for less than your smartphone, and is more precious. It is easier to buckle up a baby when you install a car seat.

7. Ditch the phone


It is a bad idea to answer calls while you drive. The call is not more important than the lives in your hands - yours, those of your passengers, and the pedestrians and other motorists. Even handsfree mode is not of much use as the interaction distracts your attention from the road. The best thing to do is to stop the car somewhere on the edge of the road and then take that call.

8. Don't drive when you are drunk


Nobody is asking you not to drink. Just do not drive when you have had alcohol. Take a cab back home. You can always collect your car when you are sober the next day. Many drunk drivers forget that when they drive in an inebriated state with reduced cognitive abilities, they play not only with their lives but also the lives of many innocents who perhaps always follow road-rules. Don't you think it's unfair for a law abiding person to die when the defaulter is the sole culprit?

9. Mind the gap

Indians are so pressed for space that they scramble to occupy every tiny inch of space available on the road. On my trips abroad, I have been impressed by the high levels of law enforcement and how the drivers respect those laws. There is always at least 3 feet gap between two vehicles. In India, I always feel claustrophobic when I see cars and autos fill every little gap around me. The fear aggravates when this happens on a slope. Not leaving 3 feet gap can dent the car waiting behind as there is always a lag in the transition between brake and accelerator, and this makes the vehicles slide backward.

The nine commandments above have a tenth partner - "do not honk unnecessarily". At times, Indian drivers honk more than they drive. Noise pollution apart, this incessant and mindless honking can actually intimidate people behind the wheel and cause them to make driving mistakes.


I hope the news I read will gradually change. I want to hear more stories of success, not sorrow. I recently read about the Nissan Safety Driving Forum. This is a wonderful initiative by Nissan to change the mindset of the masses. Since 2012, NSDF has been covering different cities across India and promoting safety driving. They conduct very immersive safety drives through interactive sessions, car crash simulations and even a 360 degree turn over! Don't miss their sessions in Kochi this December!


Let me hear your thoughts!