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Keeping a lid on new road laws

Story: Kurt Bento | 07th August 2012, 02:31 Hrs

The decision by the Ministry of Transport to start enforcing the helmet rule for pillion riders is a credible decision and should be applauded, as long as it was done for the right reasons.

Since there seems to be great concern about reducing thenumber of fatalities from road accidents, it would seem to be a good start.But, if one looks at the current infrastructure provided and the functioning ofthe traffic police and the transport ministry, this decision lacks foresight.

Less than a decade ago, the government decided to enforcethe helmet rule for riders across the state, only to bow down to pressure fromthe public and enforce it only on the national highways that run through Goa.They followed that up with a lack of enforcement, which means that even today,people flout the rules with abandon. The same goes for the use of seatbelts,tinted glasses, proper number plates and many other laws that continue to bebroken because of complete apathy towards the law by the public. In additionthere is no one to monitor incidents on Goa’s roads. Bringing the rule intoplay now will only infruriate the public and bring about an assortment ofconspiracy theories, from better business for the helmet lobby to kickbacks topoliticians.

Fatalities happen because of a lack of riding and drivinggear. Accidents happen because of a lack of awareness about the road laws, anignorance of ethics, rules and civic sense. What the government needs to do,before enforcing the helmet rule for pillion riders, is to start enforcing therules that are already in place. Roads need to be spruced up properly, not in ahaphazard ‘give the tender to the lowest bidder’ sort of way. When people payhigh road taxes, they expect quality roads and quality enforcement. No one isabove the law, whether you are riding a scooter that costs thirty thousandrupees or driving an expensive European car worth 200 times that. And thisneeds to be driven in. Nuances like driving with the low beam on, the cons ofovertaking on corners, how to negotiate around blind turns, passing othervehicles from the right and so many others, need to be driven in, since theseare the factors that turn a ‘harmless’ manoeuvre into a deadly accident.

While a precedent for rash driving has been set by mostbikers in Goa, it would be ludicrous to always fix the blame on the rider whenan accident happens. Many out there have been victims of rash driving andovertaking by a car or SUV.  Many havebeen sideswiped by a car, while attempting to overtake it, in a ‘how dare you overtakeme’ manner. 

What the government needs to do first is to fix budgets fora large scale awareness programme. Introduce it in schools and colleges, sothat better road sense and ethics are imparted at the grassroots level. Thesingle helmet rule for riders needs to be enforced, along with more stringentlaws and fines for those flouting the rules. Paying Rs 100 for not wearing ahelmet does not hurt a person who knows how to avoid the police, especiallywhen they stand at predetermined locations on the roads. Levying a fine of Rs2000 will hurt bad, simply because a quality helmet starts at  half that amount.

Fatalities will drop with better riding gear and the numberof accidents will be reduced by better awareness and a sense of responsibility,which, if instilled, will go a long way. When the rules are enforced and peoplesee the result, they will naturally want to follow new laws to save their ownskin. That would be a magnanimous victory for better planning by theauthorities. 

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