If one is driving in India, one needs to keep eyes in all the four directions. This is not the rule position but the real position because one doesn’t know who will overtake from which direction. So, one has to be responsible for one’s own safety and other’s safety until unless one wants to get trapped with traffic police. Till this limit, everything is allowed and interestingly, everything happens on the road which one can imagine to happen in an open space. Lane driving, zebra crossing ,age-limit on driving, respect for pedestrian is flouted regularly and it is very certain that most of the Indians are not even aware of what they are doing is right or wrong and what are repercussions of that. It is no doubt that India has one of the highest road fatalities in the world.
Let us first talk of lane driving. ‘Hold your lane’ is general principle in most of the developed countries but in India ‘Change your lane’ is general principle. As soon as one finds that other lane is moving a bit fast, one will change lane in India. There is nothing wrong in moving to faster lane but the moot question is that is there any ‘faster lane’ in India. India has no defined principle of speed lanes and thus, the road passengers change the speed lane every few seconds putting themselves and their surrounding vehicles into jeopardy. But this is not simply road behavior, it is the behavior of Indian society where everyone wants to move ahead on the peril of other. Very few people believe in holding their lanes and in respecting the safety of others.
Coming to the respect for pedestrian and zebra crossing. Around a few years ago when I was visiting Los Angeles, I unconsciously stepped onto the road just as I would have done in India and the response I got was amazing. The car stopped at least 10 meters away and honked. It was a clear indication that driver was annoyed that I didn’t use Zebra crossing for crossing the road and didn’t wait for pedestrian lights to time my crossing. In India, rarely vehicles stop behind zebra crossing. In fact, as one grows as a driver in India, one forgets what is zebra crossing. So, if a pedestrian in India wants to cross the road when pedestrian light is green in India, it will not be a surprise that a car will just stop near the feet of pedestrian. The scant regard for pedestrian in India has its genesis in the power structure of Indian society.
If one has more resources in India, one is likely to exercise one’s power in public space. So, if one is owning a bigger vehicle, one feels the conscious right to have unrestricted way on the road. Leave apart VIP vehicles, if one can see a Fortuner or SUV, one will always see them drive fast demanding way from others. Pedestrian is seen as some one slowing them down and one with very less right to walk on the road. After all, roads are meant for vehicles and not for pedestrian. But where is the infrastructure for pedestrian? Are there enough Foot over Bridges(FOBs) ,zebra crossings, Pedestrian lights to facilitate safe crossing of pedestrian? The answer to this question is that such an infrastructure is still a work in progress.
In fact, it is surprising that many national and state highways don’t have enough infrastructure for pedestrian crossing especially in the cities through which they pass. But even if infrastructure is there, one will find pedestrian using road only to reach the other side. It is surprising to see that pedestrian is crossing the road just beneath the FOB. After all , he is also part of Indian society and wants to reach the destination quickly without any regard for his own safety or the others on the road. India as society is yet to understand the importance of discipline in public spaces. The idea that individual safety is highly related to collective safety is yet to get absorbed.
Coming to under-age driving in India. In India, one can see eyes of parents full with pride that their under-age child is able to drive the vehicle. Now in such a case whom should one blame? When parents are themselves ignorant about their children’s and other’s safety, things can only be improved by policing. However, certain resourceful but irresponsible parents, will think of their under-age kid’s safety and hence , allow him to drive car so that even if he meets with an accident at least he is safe. The idea that power and wealth can by pass rules in India is shocking as ever. A country that aspires to be a modern day nation cannot live with such ill thought process. Something has definitely gone wrong in our learning process that we are yet not understand the meaning of having a ‘Responsible Behavior ‘ in public spaces. It is high time we should introspect and learn proper habits to create a better world for ourselves and our children.