63-year-old Kamalamma (name changed) was peacefully walking with her husband at 5.30 am in a quiet locality in Bengaluru. Little did she know that fate had a terrible plan for her. Two youngsters on a bike sped past them, close enough to brush against her. Her life changed forever! She fell down, hit her head against the curb, and has been bed-ridden for the last 10 years.
My dear friend lost her 17-year-old son in a road accident, when he and a friend set off on a bike to wish their friends on a new-year eve. Both of them had no licence, and did not wear helmets. Another acquaintance of mine, who used to work in BSNL, has been bed-ridden for the last 12 years. When she was proceeding to her office on a two-wheeler, a rash four-wheeler driver hit her and sped away near a signal.
A friend of mine was casually purchasing something at a bakery, when a rashly-driven car went over the footpath and ran over his foot. This young IT professional was seriously injured, had to go through an agonising surgery and suffer pain for another six months.
One more couple known to me lost their lovely daughter who was to graduate as a specialist doctor and get married in a few months, in a gory accident. And their lives changed forever.
These are accidents that happened to people I know closely. Thousands of such cases are happening around the country everyday, and the victims’ families go through hell for years or sometimes for life. Losing dear ones is not something that can be taken lightly.
When the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act came into effect this September, many Bengalureans had opposed the steep hike in fines. Even now, many citizens consider the higher penalties and enforcement unfair, though traffic violations remain rampant in the city.
Innocent by-standers are often the victims
Traffic is increasing manifold in Bengaluru, and rash driving has become the order of the day. Many youngsters, for whom bikes are symbols of machismo, just do not care about anything. They violate all rules – they jump signals, overtake rashly from the wrong side, drive on the footpath, shift lanes without indicating to the vehicles behind, turn left or right suddenly to the wrong lane, and even hit and run.
When such youngsters lose lives, their families are doomed and suffer for life. Yes. But what about others who are involved in accidents caused by these youth, for no fault of theirs? They suffer morally, legally, mentally and physically, all their lives.
Heavy traffic can be no excuse for the number of accidents happening in India. PRS Legislative Research states that, in 2015, there were five lakh road accidents in India, which killed 1.5 lakh people. And what about the thousands injured?
India, as a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration on Road Safety of 2015, aimed to reduce road accidents and halve traffic fatalities by 2022. And hence the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act.
The new law, therefore, has to be lauded. It is shameful to see people opposing this law and the steep fines for traffic violations. Nobody who has met with an accident, got injured or lost their near and dear, would oppose it.
If people are unwilling to stick to rules, and feel they’ve to wear helmets or belts just to please a traffic constable or avoid fines – and not for their own safety – stringent measures are needed to make them realise their responsibilities on the road. Because these violations are dangerous not only for them, but for others on the road, including innocent pedestrians.
Even those who do wear helmets, do not belt them tightly. And what about violation of rules on speed limits, lanes, drunken driving, driving while talking over phone and at traffic signals? When these violations lead to accidents, the victims are often the law-abiding citizens.
In Bengaluru, 684 people were killed in road accidents last year. Of them, 317 were two-wheeler riders and 276 were pedestrians. In comparison, 120 people – a much smaller number – lost their lives in road accidents in Singapore in 2018. Singapore is comparable to Bengaluru in terms of size, though Bengaluru’s population is higher.
It’s about governance too
Since politicians always had this fancy of turning Bengaluru into Singapore, they should take into account all aspects. It is not enough to go on constructing high-rise buildings all over the city. The public transport system in Singapore, the roads, pavements, pathways and stormwater drainage system make life there so smooth-running.
Accidents in Bengaluru occur not only due to traffic law violations and errors by drivers. There is so much to be blamed on governance – the bad roads and pavements, corrupt traffic regulators, insufficient public transport system, choked stormwater drains, mindless growth of the city, all result in accidents.
Most pavements are dangerous with uneven surfaces, protruding rods, chords and slabs, and the good portions are occupied by commercial operators. Hence pedestrians have nowhere to walk. These issues need to be addressed seriously.
It is not enough to have a stringent law. The implementation has to be stringent and fair. Corruption should be rooted out of the system. Traffic constables should be given better facilities like safe cubicles and masks, and should be incentivised to implement the law as it reads.
Even now, in many states, the Act is not implemented in its full spirit. The Act should be implemented properly around the country, with no exceptions, if India has to become a safer place for law-abiding citizens.