Driving to death..

India seems to have got itself the dubious honour being  the world’s road death capital.

I am sure that most of us are not even surprised at it. Apparently, we overtook China in 2006, to become the country with the deadliest roads.

There are so many factors that just add up to these scary statistics, starting from the bottom, the drivers. So many of us on the roads, have licenses that are not properly earned, but ‘procured’. People ‘learn’ to drive/ride as they go. I remember seeing little boys riding their dad’s scooters when we were growing up – people never felt the need to go by the rules and ensure that a child is old and mature enough to handle the vehicle, forget about getting a license the correct way.  Then again,  if you do try to do everything the right way, you could probably forget about reaching your destination, any time in the near future.  One of my cousins was quite a careful and polite driver. A couple of years back, we saw a huge transformation in his driving method, apparently being a nice guy in the traffic does not help.  Every body is in a hurry, every body tries to inch one bit closer when the lights are red, resulting in a big jam when the lights are green. I remember autos squeezing into a tiny bit of space between two massive trucks. God forbid, the trucks move sideways even a bit.

Then of course, there is the issue with the way our ring roads and flyovers are constructed. It almost looks like the planner don’t seem to think ahead. I remember a flyover in Bangalore, which was meant to reduce the traffic congestion on the road, but the entry and exit from the flyover was so bad, that it hardly helped. The congestion just moved from one place to another. Makes me wonder about how these are planned. Almost every high-speed ring road has pedestrians crossing on foot, as it takes their fancy. We cannot even blame them, because they have no other option. There are no underpasses or over head footpath to help them cross, so what option do they have? I remember being scared to death when a family decided to run across the road(a high-speed highway) right in front of our car. Thankfully, the driver managed to swerve and not hit anybody/anything. But the fact that this sort of thing is done and is acceptable is the sad part. Not every body would be as lucky. If the driver could have hit another car, so many things could go wrong, when something like this happens. Apparently it does not make financial sense to build underpasses or walkways. Does that mean that human life is so under-valued that it does not matter if a few people die on the streets?

Do our traffic policemen really fine drivers at all? Most people recount of how they catch you and you are let off with a bribe . They are, apparently, extremely reluctant to fine people the proper way. So how can we really get the people to follow rules when the rules themselves are not properly enforced?

Here, there is a part of a ring road I pass regularly. They had recently added traffic lights after somebody was killed crossing it. Somebody (from here) was lamenting that it took a person to be killed for them to introduce lights there.. I just wished that at least people getting killed on our roads would propel our governments to action to try to manage our roads better..

Too dangerous to walk?

According to a recent survey by the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF), Mumbai ranks the highest on the walkability index, while Delhi is a ‘pedestrian-unfriendly city’.

It is quite amazing that in a country where 40% of trips do not involve motor vehicles, our major cities are still so walking unfriendly. Most of our cities do not have well planned for pedestrian crossing or subways.  I remember while driving down a highway, a rather new high-speed highway, suddenly, two people jump onto the road and peacefully cross the road, unaware of how much we had to brake, to slow down. We were amazed at their courage, but then, that is the only way they could cross it. There are hardly any underpasses or bridges to help people cross. So we see people, cattle, and everything else on the so called high-speed roads.

Both husband and I love walking. We used to walk a lot when we were in Bangalore. A couple of years back, in Bangalore during our holiday, we decided to walk to somewhere. We ended up being jostled, pushed and finally hailed an auto – it was just not worth the trouble. For the amount that the population has increased, the pavements seem to have shrunk. Roads have been widened at the cost of pavements for pedestrians.

The other day, I met a young Indian man, who was telling me that he was a planner of roads, motorways here, in the UK. So,  I joked that he is really needed in India, that we need a lot of planning there and he told me, that there was no job for him currently in India. He hopes that in five years time or so, they would understand the need for such intense planning, right now, there was no demand. Stunning, isn’t it? I would have thought that they should be in great demand, with so much of infrastructure work going on.. Or is it just that our authorities prefer unplanned work – makes it easier to commission a new phase of development, when this one cracks? Why plan long term, when short term is more lucrative?