Wednesday, March 21, 2012

License to kill

By HH Mohrmen

This is one heading which is straight from the series of movies revolving around MI5 special agent 007 James Bond. However, the article is not about any of the recently declassified MI5 top secret files nor does it have any connection with Wikileaks. I tried to convince my friends the necessity to collect statistics from the various police outposts and police stations located on the National Highway to find out the number of motor accident cases on Jowai-Shillong portion of NH 44 but we are yet to act on it. I have a feeling that the data if collected would reveal the reckless attitude of not only the truck drivers but also the drivers of every kind of vehicles from two to 20 wheeler monsters which ply on this highway. Every commuter on this highway would confirm that accidents occur on this highway almost on a daily basis and in most cases it involves trucks. But there are accidents which have gone unreported, where parties settle their differences and the police are not involved. But in spite of that the truth remains that nowadays since we seldom have battles and wars traffic accidents are responsible for the largest numbers of deaths.
I don’t have to wait for the data from the police stations and outposts when I am called to conduct the funeral of a father who lost his life in a motor accident in the heart of Jowai town. I wonder if it is sheer coincidence that three families of the same locality in the same block living in houses a few hundred feet apart from each other would meet with the same tragedy of losing their loved ones in a motor accident on the 64 KM stretch of NH 44 and to be asked to conduct the funeral of the third tragedy the locality has experienced in the span of a year. It was indeed a challenge.
Naturally friends and relatives are shocked on knowing about the tragedies and the question on everyone’s lips when tragic accidents occur is, “How did it happen?” In my homily I said we are asking the wrong question. It is a wrong to ask how did it happen because it would not help provide us the answer to understand why accidents happen. I suggested that the question one should ask is not how the accident happened; but rather why did it happen? Why do accidents happen? Why did we have to lose three valuable lives of the locality in motor accidents in the first place? Then answers will start rolling down on us.
Accidents occur because the driver ( and I include myself in the list) is in a perpetual hurry. Our impatience is writ large on our faces when we have to wait for the traffic signals to change. Accidents happen because of reckless driving by young drivers who at times seems to have the impression that they are piloting a jetfighter and not a car. Accidents also happen because we have irresponsible people with driving license who in spite of being under the influence of alcohol are callous enough to sit on the driver’s seat not realizing that they not only put their lives in danger but also the lives of the passengers in the car and those on the road who could be killed because of the careless attitude of the drivers.
Accidents happen because of the kind of drivers on the road, underaged drivers, illiterate drivers who do not even any idea of any kind of traffic signals. Many of the drivers particularly truck drivers not only lack knowledge of proper traffic rules but they don’t even have the proper attitude required of a driver of a public vehicle. Why does this happen? Who helps put the illiterate and ignorant drivers on the road thereby endangering the lives of many who use the same highway? There are many players in this. It starts from every District Transport Office in the State. It is an open secret that license in these DTOs are up for sale if one only knows the right person to contact. The rate of the license varies upon the urgency of issuing one. The sooner one needs the license the higher the cost of the license. A driver who acquires a license using unfair means need not appear for any driving tests or any tests at all. He is issued a license pronto with no questions asked. What the staff in the DTO forget is that by doing so they are also issuing the person a license to kill. How else would one expect a driver who literally buys his driving license? At one point of time there were trucks drivers in Jaintia hills who had never set foot outside their village but they hold a driving license issued from South Garo Hills.
Then there are politicians and aspiring politicians who with good intentions of helping somebody acquire a license, take it upon themselves to visit the DTOs to get the license done. In the process these politicians and aspiring politicians too are helping someone get the license to kill without having to undergo the necessary driving test. Even doctors at times are also helping people to acquire a license to kill by not conducting a thorough medical check up of the candidate before signing on the dotted lines of the applicant’s driving license form. Our leaders are also to be blamed for every accident that takes place because the narrow roads that we have were not made to handle the kind of traffic that they now carry. In many instances the road is so narrow that is not even suitable to be called a national highway. Perhaps Meghalaya is the only state where heavy vehicles still have to ply through the towns and cities and this invariably causes traffic jams and road accidents.
Accidents can be avoided if only the drivers are careful in their driving and they respect their fellow drivers and the pedestrians walking on the footpath. Tragedies from accidents will decrease if we have drivers who really know how to drive and when not to drive. The staff of the DTO’s office can minimize accidents if they stop selling the license to kill to undeserving candidates, remembering that the same tragedy could visit them or their own families next time around.
Accidents also happen because motor cyclists do not care for their safety and ride their bikes without helmets. Even the pillion riders never wear helmets and they are never penalised. When we do not even care for our own safety, how can we expect to care for the safety of those riding with us? Police should be more stringent in enforcing traffic rules especially against two wheeler riders.
At times pedestrian too are to be blamed for accidents; we cross traffic signals at our own whims and fancies; we do not wait for traffic signals to change before crossing and we even cross the busy traffic where no zebra crossing exists. It reminds me a of a story of two teams of business executives one from Japan and another from US who were in a hurry to cross the street to a restaurant nearby. Since there were no vehicles on the road, the Americans walked across in spite of the traffic signal saying otherwise while the Japanese waited till walk sign was on to cross the road. The Americans who had to wait for the Japaneses asked them why they didn’t they cross when there was no car in sight anyway? The Japanese replied, ‘What if there is a kid watching us? What kind of lesson do you think he will learn if we cross when the signal evidently says “Don’t cross” We need to remind ourselves that we need to obey traffic rules not only when the traffic warden is in sight but because the law says so. What a great lesson indeed! If only we had the same respect for the law!

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