By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem
Till he acquired it my son Adnan’s greatest ambition in life was to arm himself with a car driving licence. So he organised and orchestrated things in such a way that he would get his learner’s licence exactly on his 18th birthday. He thought that it was very wise groundwork but bureaucracy thought otherwise!
When the ‘Birthday Boy’ stepped into the Regional Transport Office, better known as the ‘RTO Office’ on his birthday morning, armed with all the documents, he was politely told by the officer manning the reception desk that he would officially turn 18 only a day after his 18th birthday! A discussion between them about why this should be so when a person’s age is calculated up to the midnight of the previous day led nowhere because the much older man won the case by telling him that their computers were programmed to accept applications only a day after their 18th birthdays were fully over!
So unlike most birthday mornings it was not a very happy morning for my son. He came back home like a battle-weary soldier but determined to return to the battle field the next morning. My wife and I were a little surprised that he had not decided to spend the night at the RTO office itself! Thankfully, the next day the officer and his machine were both able to help him realise his dream. For a pretty long time after that it was always him in the driving seat and me in the passenger seat.
One bright sunny morning while we were negotiating through the daunting Bengaluru traffic, with me complimenting my son on his rapid acquisition of driving skills, we were flagged down by a Policeman who asked us to report to his boss who was standing under the shade of a nearby tree, leaning against his navy blue Bolero and twirling his moustache. I presumed that we had been stopped perhaps because my son looked a little too young to be in the driving seat and reassured him that I would handle the situation.
I quickly collected all the relevant documents of the vehicle and my son’s brand new licence too and walked up to the officer offering them for his inspection. He seemed to be completely uninterested in them and instead pointed out that we had been stopped because I had not been wearing my seat belt!
Those were the days when wearing seatbelts was being insisted upon by the Police only in Bengaluru while it was only something that we used to hear about in the rest of the State. So I sheepishly told the officer that since I had come from Mysuru I had still not cultivated the habit of wearing a seat belt routinely. That would have done the job perfectly for me but I made the mistake of also telling him that I was a doctor.
This I did only with the fond hope that this additional information would make him soften his stand on how he intended to punish me for my peccadillo. I had resorted to this trick in the past too and it had indeed helped me! Being a cop he quickly sensed my motive and reassured me that I was lucky this time because he and his team were still in the process of only warning motorists instead of penalising them. But it earned me a lesson in common sense.
He began to elaborate on how as a doctor I should have been all the more aware of the well documented and stellar role of seatbelts in preventing serious injuries and deaths in road accidents. But before he could start rolling out the statistics to support his knowledge I promised never to even sit in my armchair at home without a seatbelt and quickly bid adieu to him with my politest Namaste!
Now, after that brief encounter, whenever I see a Traffic Policeman I always make the sign of the cross and touch my chest and shoulders, like a Catholic priest, to make sure that I am wearing my seatbelt! But what surprises me is the fact that even with the hefty fines that are being imposed now people still continue to flaunt traffic rules with total impunity. It is true that most people have started wearing helmets and seatbelts and are hastily getting their vehicle documents in order. That is why we are seeing long queues in front of all emission testing centres and wide smiles on the faces of all roadside helmet sellers!
But the show stops here. All the honking and yelling from behind you when you have dutifully stopped in deference to the red light at a left turn that is not free and all the scowls you see when you are not able to make way for all those who approach you from the wrong side of the narrow one-way street continue unabated.
To the eyes of many people traffic lights seem to have only a decorative value. They simply ignore red lights and drive through intersections even unmindful of the Traffic Policemen who stand there all day long. They are able to do this undeterred simply because the Police, as of now, are completely unmindful of all such dare devilry.
This is happening across the entire length and breadth of our State because our Traffic Policemen seem to have been entrusted only with the responsibility of checking the validity of vehicle documents and ensuring that people wear helmets and seatbelts. Sadly, on weekends it is only foul breath smelling duty for them!
Exceeding the speed limit and driving through a red light are among the most serious of all traffic offences all over the world as they are considered the most dangerous to other road-users. But sadly, here at home these are the most ignored and overlooked. Law- abiding citizens should have no reason to condemn stiff penalties as harsh or draconian as there is nothing there for them to fear. It is only those who wish to benefit from their wrong-doings and lapses who want a lenient approach. So our Government should not have yielded as it did recently, to the clamour for leniency which we saw from some quarters. But as we all know, most Governments today stand only on the pedestal of populism and the only way for them to do this delicate balancing act is by compromising on principles and pleasing all their cronies. Knowing what is good and what is bad for the man on the street is something that hardly matters !
e-mail: [email protected]