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Traffic safety, first and last

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.

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One comment

  1. I remember being told this once that if one knows horse riding well; he can be very safe riding a motorbike. It still doesn’t sound very logical; but the point is about how connected one is to the bike without any seatbelt in place. Students of science may understand the use of seatbelt a lot better with knowledge of principles of inertia in physics. The seats of your car can be most luxuriously comfortable, but still they are not living room sofas. Even the seatbelt we use in our road cars do secure the lower body well to the seats, but not necessarily that effective as a rally car seatbelt while securing the lateral movement of the body during an emergency. Talking about infants or little children traveling with us, we hardly find those baby seats to be secured to the rear seats of the car.

    Even knowing how safe the vehicles we drive at different speeds on different surfaces is another topic for discussion on road safety. Not many of us actually checks how forward we can lean being seated in our car with seat belts on. There is no point putting the seatbelt on just to avoid being fined in bumper to bumper rather low paced city traffic. We have the rules in place, but even those traffic persons imposing the rules don’t necessarily understand the applications. So it’s true that if our drivers and riders are a lot more aware about basic automobile mechanics as well as road safety and traffic applications, our roads will be a lot more safer and bad traffic problems will be minimized to some extent. Driving on a public road, let’s not take unnecessary risks beyond our driving skills and abilities as it’s not a race track where we try to cross our limits. Not everyone is an old fashioned Engine Driver.

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