The standardisation of road safety signs and symbols is a welcome change. It started with Paro now welcoming visitors to the country. The change indicates that the concerns raised by the people of Paro dzongkhag have been heard signifying the importance of standardizing certain norms.
While disseminating information, signs and symbols communicate meanings. Paro dzongkhag, as the main gateway to Bhutan through air, gives visitors the first impression of the country, its culture and people. It is also as much about hospitality, and when charged with emotions, signboards signify various meanings.
For a country that is reached by road and explored on foot, standardising such road signs become even more important. They inform road users of directions and destinations, alerting them of the sharp bends, rolling boulders and washroom facilities where and if available. The standards mandate signboards to be in both Dzongkha and English and identified with colours for national highways and dzongkhag roads, guiding traffic for road safety.
The Department of Roads will be implementing the standards nationwide and new road signs are expected to be up soon. While the want of policies and standards may be one, implementing them often becomes problematic in Bhutan. This move to standardise road signs must gain pace for the exercise would also allow authorities to update names of places and distances, as well as assess road conditions and roadside amenities such as toilets.
But welcoming visitors and informing road users with new signboards is not enough. They may caution road users but road safety still remains a concern. Records with the Road Safety and Transport Authority show that between July 2015 and June 2016, there were 747 motor vehicle crashes, where 86 lives were lost and 326 injured. With the number of vehicles reaching 86,304, more efforts are required to prevent motor vehicle crashes.
Standardising signboards and focusing on aesthetics is important but an area that needs attention is the safety of road users. Lives are lost and become mere statistics. Perhaps, this may not be raised as an issue concerning a particular dzongkhag but even with policies and laws and rules in place at all levels, motor vehicle crashes are becoming a norm, the standard. It may be symbolic of the country’s terrain, driving culture and road conditions but it is these signs that need to be looked into.