Ap Sha is a strict taxi driver now. He will not let mothers with infants sit in the front seat of his taxi. He is adamant that his passengers are buckled up. At zebra crossings, he slows down and lets pedestrians cross.
After attending the daylong session on road safety, the Thimphu-based cabbie is aware of road safety rules. It was not his first time attending such training. He didn’t follow because nobody followed. The penalties, in monetary terms, which officials told him they would impose, scared the hell out of him.
By the end of the month, the road safety authority will have trained about a thousand taxi and student drivers. This is an annual event, but is becoming more relevant as our roads get more congested by the day. The lack of traffic sense among Bhutanese motorists is a well-known and much-discussed fact.
With increasing number of vehicles, better traffic sense and courteous drivers can solve a part of the problem. The training should expand to other drivers, including those who drive bigger cars. It is not that those driving bigger cars have better sense.
The number of drivers is increasing but not the number, who know how to drive. Traffic can be managed effectively to an extent with new technology, like advanced traffic control system, which the government is studying. But a lot will depend on the one behind the wheel. If rules are not followed and violators are not penalised, even the most sophisticated technology won’t help.
Today, if it is a mess along the busy streets, not many are aware of rights at roundabouts and T-junctions. Stop signs and zebra crossings have been around for decades; who follows the rule is there for all to see. Quite often a driver, slowing down at zebra crossing, will be honked at or eyeballed by the one behind him.
Authorities are still skeptical about introducing traffic lights. The absence of traffic lights in the country attracts attention and visitors appreciate it. The hand movement of the traffic police directing the traffic makes a good subject for curious tourists, but there is pressure on his arms. Times have changed and so has the number of vehicles. If electric controls can smoothen traffic flow, the policeman may be relieved for other duties.
What is more relevant is the need for more and more educated (driving) drivers. If that is lacking, implementation of stricter rules could help. We make good rules, but they remain only on paper. A good example is the seat belt rule. It would be interesting to know if authorities themselves follow it.
Drivers, like Ap Sha, will feel the pinch if they are levied hefty fines after being trained. They will understand it is safe, both for health and wealth, if rules are in place and followed.