In 1997, I decided to travel to Europe with my family. As I was planning for the tour, I thought it would be great fun, if I drove around Europe myself, instead of traveling by public transport. At that time, I had driven Maruti, Ambassador and Fiat cars in India, and had very little experience of driving mid-size cars. Some of my friends advised I not drive in Europe. In fact, one of my friends told me that on the expressway in Germany, people drive at a speed of over 150kmph and if I don’t cope up with the speed, I might meet with an accident. However, I decided to take the risk and went ahead to experience driving in Europe myself.
We hired a car from Zurich for 15 days and on the very first day, we traveled almost 400 miles! We reached Salzburg in Austria, without any problem, although I was driving an Opal Astra for the first time. I never had to honk, as there was no need. I found people very disciplined, while driving. Not just that, pedestrians only used footpaths. People had the courtesy toward pedestrians and fellow drivers on the road. There were no irregular pedestrian crossings, as there were either over bridges or subways.
You may think it is difficult to drive in Europe, because all cars have a left-hand drive and unlike India, you have to drive on the right hand side of the road. But to my astonishment, everything on the road was so disciplined, that I never faced any problem. There was a huge difference between what we see in India and what I experienced in Europe.
I, then, thought that when I get back to India, I will take up an initiative to create awareness of disciplined driving for a safe India.
Later, I visited London and observed that rather than enforcement of rules and regulations, people were self-disciplined on the road. One of my friends drove me all over London. One day, he told me that he would take us to the River Thames at midnight. We reached the river bank at 2am. The road, next to the river bank, had 5 lanes and there was no traffic at all, at that time. He told me to take a stroll at the river bank and he would join us after parking the car, as there is no parking allowed on the road sides. A typical Indian, I told him, 典here is no traffic at all now. Why don’t you park the car near the footpath and join us?But he refused at first. However, on my insistence, he agreed and parked the car at the side of the road. Believe me, even before he could get out of the car, a policeman came and told him that he cannot park here. There was no discussion or argument or even a request to allow him to park, as it was not disturbing anyone and was only for half an hour. The rules are that strict. My friend had to, ultimately, park the car in a parking lot.
It was really a pleasant surprise, that the ordinary citizens and the law enforcement officials are so disciplined on the road.
My 15 days experience in Europe and London led me to initiate a road safety project in India. I feel it’s our responsibility to make a better society and not just curse the nation for what it does not have.
The New Year is greeted with much joy & celebration. Leading up to the new year, people are happy, full of hope for the ensuing year and everyone likes to leave their troubles behind, and let their hair down. Some people celebrate to forget a bad year gone-by, others to toast what has been a splendid year. There are parties, gatherings and galas all over the place. Everything culminates in the biggest night of them all- the new year’s eve – on the 31st of December.
However, in the midst of all the revelry, the roads across India present a very morbid and contrary picture. In a country that witnesses 13 road deaths each hour (adding up to 1.4 lac road deaths each year), it is ironically enough, the New Year’s eve, that sees a sharp increase in road-related casualties!
It is also no surprise then, that 50% deaths are of pedestrians, cyclists & bikers. Inebriated passenger car & commercial vehicle drivers lose the sense of proportion by taking their celebrations onto the roads. The result – pedestrians are targeted unwittingly, falling prey to the menacing drunk driving of new year’s eve party revelers. Bikers too, high on life and various other substances, bring in the new year by driving at lighting fast speeds, screaming and racing, not caring about laws, safety, or anything else!
Again, the fall-out is alarming – deaths in uncountable & shameful numbers on roads, that become unsafe places. To add to that, several parts of the country experience thick fog, that reduces visibility and makes it even more dangerous for people to be out & about.
One could argue that the solution is stricter policing and enforcement of laws on the roads. But the fact is, most of our police personnel is also in the holiday cheer, with their primary motive not to reduce road-casualty, but to make a quick buck!
It is shocking how unsafe our roads are, especially on the most celebratory night of the year. But the sad truth is, if you want a safe passage into the next year, the roads are not the best route to take. A road to change, is most desperately needed!