Making Road Safety a Priority !
Columns, Over A Cup of Evening Tea

Making Road Safety a Priority !

January 31, 2021

By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD

A news video is doing the rounds of the social media circuit over the past few days which says that the Karnataka Government has introduced a new rule that all vehicles that are found with their insurance lapsed would be immediately seized and impounded permanently without any means of getting them released even if their owners agree to get the insurance renewed. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth because such a harsh and draconian order is unlikely to see the light of the day now or even in the near future. We can understand a vehicle without valid insurance being permanently impounded and auctioned too, if it is involved in an accident and we already have such a law. I even support a law that makes such merciless vehicle impoundments permanent or at least sufficiently prolonged to deter every kind of serious lapse on the part of their owners. 

And, that is how the laws are in many developed countries across the world. The area where such harsh laws are required in our country is in cases where minors and unlicensed drivers go about driving all kinds of vehicles with complete disdain for all our rules of road safety. If you come to think of it, today our roads are the places where we lose the maximum number of lives prematurely, under unnatural circumstances and quite unnecessarily too. The average number of people dying in road accidents in our country every year stands at a staggering 2,30,000 which translates to a whopping 630 deaths each passing day! 

The sad part is that a good many of such deaths are completely preventable if our laws are made harsher and are also applied mercilessly and uniformly without fear or favour. The mildness of some of our laws is laughable and it makes a mockery of our legal system. For instance, very recently in a case of road rage, an offender who deliberately blocked the passage of an ambulance, resulting in the death of the patient it was ferrying, was let off with a paltry penalty of just Rs. 11,000 without any imprisonment for the offending driver. Does it make sense when you look at the loss to the family of the victim and the way it alters their lives forever? Even if this kind of fine is passed on directly to the family they will only give it away to charity to soothe their pain! 

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Can such a lax legal system have any kind of correcting impact on a society where the rich and influential can get away with any crime, under the guise of labelling it an accident? Very recently when our certainly very antiquated Motor Vehicle Act was amended after a gap of many decades it brought in many changes for the better. But it still left many gaping lacunae unaddressed, making it also very loose and porous and, therefore, almost useless. 

The so-called enhanced penalties that it brought in were not harsh enough to deter some of the most dangerous transgressions like driving without a licence, driving under the influence of alcohol, exceeding speed limits and driving through red lights. The last mentioned offence, although the most seriously viewed and penalised all over the world, is almost no offence at all across the length and breadth of our vast country. 

In fact, here the ability to beat the red light and zoom out of a traffic intersection is shamelessly flaunted as the pinnacle of the art of driving! And our Traffic Police personnel too, for reasons best known only to them, seem to have perfected the art of pretending to be looking the other way when such things happen right under their noses. 

The simple act of going through the footage of our omnipresent traffic monitoring video cameras and dispatching notices to all such offenders would be the greatest contribution towards making our roads much safer than they are now. It is going to be of much greater help to other road users than the very spirited checking that our cops are now doing to ensure that people use helmets and wear seat belts. But very strangely, that does not seem to be happening, which is very sad. There is another area where our laws of road safety need to be applied a little more stringently by our Police. There is a law that prohibits our farmers from spreading their harvested grain on our roads for the passing vehicles to do the threshing for them free of cost or effort. Now, this is clearly a very dangerous practice which continues unabated across   the country. 

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Although being the rather slow driver that I am, I myself once had the very unnerving experience of my car suddenly being put through a complete 180 degree turn in the middle of the road when I tried to avoid a stray dog as I was cautiously driving over the grain that I was perhaps going to eat the coming week! The look of surprise and admiration on the dog’s face over my extraordinary driving skills was unmistakable! It must be noted that humble grain spread on the roads has claimed many lives across the years. 

Sometime ago, Sobha Nagireddy, a lady MLA of Telangana State, died in a tragic road accident near Kurnool which was caused by grain that was spread on the road for threshing. Just last month another lady died when the car she was travelling in caught fire in a similar situation. And, just three weeks ago, just a stone’s throw away from our city, a newly-married young lady and the daughter of a family I know very well as my patients, lost her life in a car accident that was reportedly caused under similar circumstances. So, this potentially very dangerous agrarian practice needs to be curbed firmly. 

But in our country, firmness in dealing with many potentially very dangerous situations seems to be very elusive because of many tricky reasons, which is indeed a very sad situation. I only hope this changes for the better, sooner rather than later!

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