Life is not cheap. No

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Safe cars, safe driving should become priority

The tragic death of Gopinath Munde, following mortal injuries he suffered in a car accident early Tuesday morning, ought to be a wake-up call to the Government in which he was a Minister. He will go down as yet another statistic of the over 1,50,000 people who die on India's roads every year. What makes this even more tragic is that news reports suggest he suffered broken cervical vertebrae after a whiplash, something that could have been mitigated if he had worn a seat-belt. However, since he was sitting in the back seat, where it is not mandatory to wear a seat-belt — and an overwhelming majority of Indians do not wear a seat-belt while seated in the rear — he cannot be faulted for this. This is not to imply that had he worn a seat-belt, Munde would have surely survived. Reports indicate that the vehicle that slammed into his car had apparently run a red light. The incident occurred in the early hours of the morning, when adherence to traffic rules drops. This is because the traffic police do not monitor or manage traffic between midnight and early morning in Delhi. Even when traffic policemen are around, they like to work on ambushing errant drivers at certain traffic junctions. The blatant abuse of traffic rules does not seem to interest them. Overcrowded cars, stunt bikers, illegal commercial vehicles, all operate with impunity. However, it must be admitted that the traffic policemen in Delhi, despite their flaws, are far superior to their counterparts in other cities of India. Few cities epitomise the free-for-all traffic system of India better than Varanasi, the constituency of India's new Prime Minister.

One of the several tragic oversights of the previous dispensation at the Centre was its failure to pass the amendments to The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. Some of the changes that had been proposed were to make rear seat-belts mandatory. However, several other changes had not been proposed as the automotive companies felt that Indians would not pay extra for safety features. It is also true that a licence to drive is considered a ‘right' in India rather than a privilege. In countries like Finland, drivers go through six months of training. In the US, driver training is included in the curriculum of most schools. India's educational authorities should realise that most children in their schools, particularly in larger cities, will drive motorcycles or cars. Providing these children adequate training at a young age will make them better drivers.

As a society, we have low regard for personal safety, because, as far too many of us murmur privately, ‘life is cheap' in India. This cannot be the attitude of those in power with the ability to change and enforce laws. Better policing and enforcement with stricter and heavier fines, even for what people consider ‘small' offences, have to be made the norm, rather than the exception. In addition, auto-makers should be forced, as they have been in other countries such as Australia, to include active safety features such as anti-lock brakes and airbags in every car they sell. Over a million Indians have died on India's roads in the past decade. It is time that road safety is taken off the backburner and brought into the limelight. Munde will not be the last man to die on India's roads, but his death ought to spark a change in attitude.

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