I was going back to Delhi after my study holidays last month. The person sitting next to me in the flight started chatting; he was a surgeon from Austria. He had come to India for a month to learn about open wound trauma care. I felt immensely proud of my country for a moment, but then it turns out that open wound trauma happens due to road accidents and India is famous for them, and that’s why he had come here to learn. My nationalistic fervour suffered a noticeable dent.
The frequency of traffic collisions in India is among the highest in the world. This begs the question: Why do so many accidents occur in India? “Because that’s how we are” is too inadequate an answer to appeal to the intellect. If there is some problem with the driving, we must look at who authorizes it and how they go about it. I went to the local road transport office to obtain my learner’s license today (yes, I’m 18 after such a long wait). Turns out the driving institute would take care of the written test that you’re supposed to write. The average institute would teach you the most basic steering and gear shifting and would totally ignore the compulsory safety instructions that are necessary for a person to become a safe driver. The transport authorities are no less; they accept bribes from these instructors and issue licenses to their ‘students’ indiscriminately, flouting all norms. My driving instructor is one of those rare persons who takes government norms seriously and holds compulsory theory classes. But is it adequate? I’d drive carefully, but some or other person might hit my vehicle because they haven’t been trained properly. Even if I manage to dodge it, they would hit some or other person in all probability. The combined callousness of most training institutes and the road transport corporation is killing and injuring people everyday.
But they alone are not to be blamed. The popular Tamil film culture, apart from other things, promotes the inevitability of a stylish bike for a self-respecting teenager. This, apart from the necessity of a bike to ‘correct’ a girl and take her out (with or without her consent). Thus, the contemporary teenage guy is more often than not equipped with a bike, driving illegally and recklessly. On top of it, he is short of a helmet and the rear-view mirror because they lack machismo. This is the cause of many accident-related deaths in youth.
The total lack of respect for traffic rules is somehow common to most Indians. This observation comes up in spite of my tendency to not be self-depreciating or racist. Metropolitan cities have come up with stringent rules and strict punishment for flouting traffic norms. Other cities should follow suit. Issuing driver’s license should become a matter of careful consideration of driving skills, not money. Let us not lose more and more people to something as paltry as a road accident.
I assure you that I’ll take the driving test in all seriousness and brush up my driving skills (yes, I learnt how to drive a car at 16 and how to drive a scooter at 14, but at least I followed all traffic rules, wore the seat belt, never jumped a signal, never got caught or bribed an officer, and most important of all, never hit any person or vehicle during training). My parents never allowed me to drive after I’d learned it, because it is illegal. Learning to drive isn’t the problem, the careless driving that follows it is.