By -Hungyo Yurreikan
The age of motor transport dawned over a century ago and is here to stay. Roads are the nerves and veins of society and this analogy dictates that for a healthy society-one that does not self-destruct, a basic requirement is that we keep our roads safe and free flowing. Besides drawing analogy, it has to be recognized that safety and security needs of humans is basic to survival and thumps most other needs, thus it begs the question ‘how safe are our roads?’
Be in on social networks, prints or broadcast media, road fatalities has become a regular news items. So much so to the point that people are becoming unaffected to what the news signifies, such news don’t appear to command the reaction that it should. Human lives are lost, beyond sympathies, it should invoke anger, yet the public doesn’t lose much sleep over it. Imphal, Manipur’s Capital City is fast running out of space, and to a relatively lesser but still alarming rates, the smaller townships. Each day, congestion creeps in further, making every structure appear as though they are pushing each other, a messy eyesore. The beauty of breathing space has beenquickly forgone. Factors of growing population, poor maintenance of roads, insufficient drainage, lack of proper signage, street vendors, illegal extensions of immovable properties, and most visibly the growing number of vehicles have brought about a massive change that stares right into our face, a problem that everybody identifies but nobody accepts as their responsibility. A kid can no longer safely walk to the house next door to meet friends, the roads are bad and traffic rushes with no concern.
Is road safety beyond our control? Yes it would be impossible for one person, no matter how powerful to ensure road safety. But through collective conscience and action, supported by proper legislations and empowered agencies, roads can be made much safer.
Members of society have to acknowledge that some changes are required to improve our experience during road commute. While the government has to be continuously pressured to do its part, there are certain things that the administration cannot implement in isolation. Traffic discipline is one that needs public participation just as much as the government’s effort. If Manipur is able to boast of a safe and disciplined traffic on her roads it would indicate a leap forward in social equity. Surprisingly it does not entail too much labour and investment to achieve certain levels of tangible progress in this domain. It is a shared responsibility of the society and would require adoption of certain roles from citizens, and proactive intervention from government agencies to fill certain gaps.
The roles of citizens are not new concepts, but rather simple etiquettes, safety measure, and compliance to law. These can be briefly listed as follow.
1. Honking: horns in automobiles are meant to be used on need basis, to alert others. It isn’t built for blaring and announcing one’s arrival or movement on the road, nor to berate others in meaningless high decibels. Use sparingly so as not to startle others. At night it’s an accepted practice to use headlights instead of horns. Honking at night causes stark disturbances and may confuse other motorist.
2. Use of rear view mirrors: Very important when manoeuvring in traffic. Disturbingly, two wheelers in Manipur usually don’t have rear view mirrors. It may be some short of fashion among youngsters to have them removed. Harmful trend, every motorist needs to know that life; their own and those of others are more important than how stylish their vehicles looks.
3. Use of seat belts and helmets: Seen by many as an inconvenience. Youngsters in particular considers helmet a bane on their style, which definitely is not an acceptable excuse. Law enforcing agencies also needs to enforce these safety practices and people need to place their own safety on higher priority.
4. Underage driving: A serious risk to self and others, a downright disregard for live and law, an offence under law which has now made parents/guardian liable to prosecution along with the ward.
5. Stopping at red light: A red light means that pedestrians or vehicles in the other sections have the right of way. Always assume that pedestrians are going to cross the road in front of your vehicle and keep the space/zebra lines open.
6. Respect the right of way: When coming into a main road from a crossing give way first to the vehicles already moving on the main road, no matter how big and flashy your vehicle is, right of way is not assigned by size of vehicle. In traffic islands and round-a-bouts give way to the vehicle on the right.
7. Overloading: a burden on the vehicle and the road, and a safety hazard. It is not merely a negligence but an outright disrespect of the law and human lives.
8. High beams: Lower high beams when there are vehicles moving in the other side of the road. It’s not just a courtesy, blinding other driver is a safety hazard.
9. Keep crossings free: Do notpark vehicles at the point of road crossings/intersections, it can cause accidents as it block visibility and jam up multiple roads. A vehicle making a turn needs more space as compared to one that is moving straight, so parking at crossings/intersection eats up the space needed for a safe turning.
10. Drinking and driving/ drunk driving: Imminent hazard, alcohol numbs the senses, there is no rationale as to why anyone without full command of senses should be on the road steering a vehicle. An absolute disrespect of society, an offence that needs to be strictly checked by law enforcing agency.
11. Knowledge of traffic signals and signage: A driver necessary needs to be able to interpret traffic signals and signs.
12. Timely and correct use of indicators: Vehicles are equipped with indicators for a reason; it is how you communicate with other vehicles on the road. Make proper use
13. Parallel Riding: Parallel riding of two or more vehicles and chatting with other drivers is a big risk,it is in not a commensurate pay-off no matter critical the matter discussed is. If required just park and catch up.
14. Parking basics: Park in such a way that your vehicle does not obstruct others nor occupies unnecessarily large space.
15. Overtaking: Overtake from the right to maintain awareness between the leading and tailing vehicles. Don’t overtake at crossings and turns.
16 . Be courteous: The road belongs to all, animals included. Share the space.
Getting a vehicle insured by the respective owners needs to be emphasized. Besides being your property and an asset, a vehicle on the road is a liability to you and to others. As such the security it provides cannot be neglected, and constitutes an essential document for many events on the road.
It is poignant to note that two-wheelers and three-wheelers in Imphal seem to be oblivious of traffic discipline. Whether negligence or mere ignorance, it needs to be addressed at the earliest. By and large they stop wherever they want; be it right in the middle of the road or at an intersection, they make abrupt turns in front of you without any signal, they overtake from the left, they honk like a train, they are usually overloaded, and the headlights and indicators of these vehicles are either never used or are non-functional. There is a dire need to set up a special task force to ensure that two-wheel and three-wheel motorists are kept abreast with the rules of the road and safety standards.
It would be of great significance towards road safety if the government initiates steps like making it mandatory for commercial passenger and cargo transport drivers to undergo certification on road safety of short durations periodically. To complement this effort, the competent agency should ensure that proper road signs are installed and promote literacy of traffic signals and road signs through appropriate means. Pushing the agenda of road safety further, a focussed study needs to be instituted to determine the number of road fatalities, causes of accidents, types of accidents, preventive methods and best practices to adopt.