In “Fate, crashes and culture”, an editorial referring directly to the Sukkur crash, this paper referenced studies saying that a fatalistic mindset ‘allows’ risky behaviour on the part of drivers. But it is not just the fatalistic mindset of drivers that is to blame for the anarchy on our roads.
While most of the accidents considered ‘front page’ or ‘breaking news’ material have been the result of errant drivers, bad roads or antiquated cars, a worrying number of deaths occur on the roads every day, but get sparse coverage.
These are pedestrian deaths, and common sense along with a functional pair of eyes are proof enough that while improving driver skills is well and good, we simultaneously need to improve walking skills.
On the slanting green belts along the 7th Avenue in Islamabad, children play cricket and football in the afternoon, with the ball regularly rolling on to the busy six-lane road. Do the kids look out for traffic? No, they run right in. Do the traffic police stop them? No, because it is not within their mandate.
Do the ‘regular’ police stop them? No, because ‘boys will be boys’. Plus they’re too busy picking up on people placing Rs100 bets on card games than people betting on their lives. Until a boy is run over. Then it’s bash-the-driver time, because it certainly can’t be the fault of the infallible police force or the children’s parents for not explaining to their kids that getting hit by a car will put an end to their dreams of a spot in the national team, and possibly their ability to dream as well.
And it’s not just children. Islamabad Highway was recently blocked by protesters after a deadly accident. They cited the Capital Development Authority’s failure to install an overhead pedestrian bridge in the area as a contributing factor. But just look at the places where there are pedestrian bridges. The structures serve mostly as shades for people walking across highways, with only few regular users interspersed with motorcyclists taking shortcuts. And the people jaywalking across the road are rarely the types that can’t use the bridge. They are the most appropriate candidates for a safety-first approach — healthy adults, mothers with children, and unaccompanied children.
It’s about time harsh measures were taken, at least on highways. Empowering the traffic police to fine jaywalkers might help. So would holding the kids until a guardian comes to collect them and pays the fine. At the end of the day, it’s all about explaining to people that if they want to take the stairway to heaven, they might as well practise by climbing stairs on earth.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2014.
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