The man matters, not the machine

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 28 Apr 2018 10:12:09


By Aasawari Shenolikar,

Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari wants automakers to design cars that would be safe to drive on the Indian roads. His aim - to bring down accidents on the roads and the fatalities that are a byproduct of the mishaps. Fair enough! Everyone wants the figures to improve. But it is what he stated in the latter part of his address on road safety that holds more significance and substance. He touched upon road culture and its importance in propagating road safety. He is bang on target, for this is what every Indian should imbibe.

For majority of us, who start their road journey with a two wheeler and then shift to a four wheeler, the road is a tarmac strip that ‘is my own property’ and that ‘I shall drive as and how I please.’ ‘I am the ruler of the road,’ is an all pervading mindset and sentiment of the Indian citizen.  Look around you carefully and see the utter mayhem and chaos on the roads. India Inc., sorry to say, has no road culture. While growing up even as we are being taught that certain rules have been laid down and we need to follow them, we are, all the time looking at the ‘forbidden fruit that is always sweeter.’ And thus, we take great pride and pleasure in breaking the rules.  So traffic lights be damned! Ask any youngster and he will vouch that there is nothing on this earth to match the thrill of zip zapping through oncoming traffic. The adrenaline rush gives the rider a high, a high that is probably greater than snorting cocaine. That he is putting others to grave danger is not on his radar. On the Indian roads, it is each to his own. The awful situation has forced many a sane and safe driver to give up driving.

An elderly person, an expert driver, was so appalled at the state of affairs on the Indian roads that were getting worse with each passing day that he left driving, for he felt totally unsafe in a situation on the road that if translated into words would be - ‘I will drive as I please, it is up to the other person to watch out and save his and my a**.’  A father on a two wheeler with a kid standing in front or sitting behind has no patience to wait for the light to turn green. He doesn’t even look to the left and right to see whether the passage is safe for him and his child. He just vrooms across, through the red light. The message that is passed on to the child of an impressionable age, - ‘it is okay to disregard the traffic light’. His father majestically swept across the traffic junction in one smooth flow - never mind the many hearts that jumped with sheer fright and anxiety from the oncoming traffic through which he mowed with utter nonchalance- and the child will do the same as soon as he gets an independent vehicle. The vicious cycle will simply go on. So, in such a situation, will a safer automobile design help the road user in the long run? No!

The other area that causes a great deal of concern is about the road rage cases. The nouveau rich have a powerful beast with steering wheels under their control, but they also are masters of uncontrolled tempers. No one, repeat no one, on the highways can and should overtake them. Else be ready for the repercussions that can be as serious as being gunned down, or not so serious as your car being smashed. That, of course, depends on the road ragers spectrum of anger that he is feeling at that particular time.
Safer designs will help control this? Definitely not!

Overtaking from wrong side, stopping bang in the middle of the road with utter disregard to the obstruction being caused to other users, honking incessantly...are simply more ways that make driving in India a hair raising experience. Navigating through a crowded road is not an easy task. The incessant honking, a feature that is used more than any other feature of the car, can get on one’s nerves and raise the blood pressure of many a cool individual.  Two wheelers driving abreast on a broad road, made narrow by the many cars haphazardly parked on it, and discussing a seemingly life and death situation while riding with helmets on, without realising that their act can contribute to someone’s death if an accident were to happen, are another menace on the Indian roads, as are the innumerable animals who are the cause of many fatalities on the roads.

The condition of the roads is another feature that gives a commuter nightmares. Of late, the conditions have improved a lot - what with eight lane expressways and highways.  These are the arteries of the nation. But the internal roads in majority of the cities, the all important capillaries in a network are in pathetic conditions. Pot holes, shoddy patchwork, poor street lights, excavations everywhere, incomplete work - all these point to the fact that driving in India is getting behind a wheel and leaving everything to destiny. Can safer and sleeker cars help bring an end to any of this? No!

Granted that the number of vehicles as well as the array of vehicles on the Indian roads are overwhelming. And for this reason alone, more than anything else, should be enough for all of us to try for a healthy road culture. And that is what Union Minister Nitin Gadkari is hoping for when he states, “We seek help from India Inc as India is committed to reducing fatal road accidents by 50 per cent by the end of 2020 as the country is signatory to UN Decade of Action. We urge the Indian Inc to teach their employees and their families imbibe a culture on road safety and use their logistics and carriers to propagate the message of road safety. Thirdly, to make a certain commitment from their CSR spends on projects of road safety advocacy.” He, thus, is on the one hand urging families to play a positive role and on the other hand is earnest in his request to the corporate sector in inculcating a culture on road safety in society and take up road safety as a part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme.

When the political leadership takes a stand and stance on serious issues, which need to be handled on a priority basis, the scenario borders on optimism. Gadkari, hopefully is not making populist statements, for in his address he also listed the initiatives undertaken by his Ministry for reducing road fatalities.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi, just a couple of days ago, made a statement about a social movement and how it is necessary to bring about a change in the socio-cultural milieu of the society. This implies a philosophical approach to a problem. And with Nitin Gadkari also urging citizens to bring about reforms in the driving culture, acchhe din are probably not far away. But, Mr Minister, let it be clear that it is the man behind the wheel that matters, and not the machine that he is driving. Latest reports on road fatalities are horrifying. 400 precious lives are lost on the roads every single day, which is far higher than countries that are bigger in size than us, more developed and have more car users. That’s because they follow road safety, they respect the other road users. Man matters, not the machine - even if it is the safest design produced by the best automotive company. Let us hope that with the higher ups and the political honchos realizing the importance of ‘culture’, this will ‘drive’ in a cultural change amongst the citizens.