I saw the traffic jam a little too late to be side stepped and found myself stuck in a gridlock from which there was no escape. It was after half an hour of twiddling my thumbs and a missed appointment that I walked almost half a kilometer to the cause of the snarl – no policeman, no traffic light and drivers, who were reluctant to give way. I walked back to my waiting family, full of angry thoughts.

Amongst other things, a nation’s stature can be fairly assessed through indicators such as advertising trends, quality of police, littering culture, place of women in society and last but not the least - traffic. Orderly lines of vehicles maintaining respective lanes, observance of traffic lights, the sanctity of the zebra crossing, proper use of pedestrian bridges, wearing of helmets and seatbelts and a smart police force with a no nonsense yet courteous commitment to enforcing rules, all reflect a social structure that is responsible, disciplined and law abiding.

Metropolises such as New York or London have vehicle densities that are far greater than ours and gridlocks of unimaginable proportions regularly occur. The difference lies in the fact that no vehicle breaks the line in a bid to get ahead and rarely are brawls witnessed amongst drivers. Even in countries such as Vietnam or Thailand, with its huge population of motorcycles and rickshaws, there appears to be a semblance of order within the chaos.

Traffic on our roads, whether rural or urban, is a nightmare created by lack of enforcement, corruption and dereliction of duty - both official and civic. We have reached a point, where radical reforms howsoever unpopular need to be enforced to put us back on the civilided track.

The first critical step in this direction will be to totally revamp all tiers within our police force. These changes must aim at creating a formidable institution, the members of which are respected by the public. With this respect must come awe, stemming from the knowledge that even the smallest infringement of rules will be noticed and penalized. I have seen this happening in Lahore during the 1950’s, where the very sight of the Anglo-Indian traffic sergeants sent shivers down one’s spine (including in one case, a sitting governor).

Motorcycles on our roads are a major source of cheap locomotion. Regretfully they also prove to be one of the biggest violators of traffic laws and consequently accidents. Weaving in and out of motor vehicles, ignoring traffic signals, not wearing helmets, not having rear view mirrors and indicators are just some of the infringements that need to be tackled immediately. An old colleague of mine lost his grandson, who decided that he was better off doing acrobatics on his machine without a helmet. The young man unfortunately lost his life in the process. Another trend is the endeavor to create a new Guinness World Record by carrying the most number of passengers on a 70 CC motor bike. The largest number on a single two wheeler that I have counted so far is five. I shudder to imagine the magnitude of injuries or even death, this practice may produce in case of a mishap. Perhaps as starters, the traffic management people may like to create a motorcycle corridor on busy metropolitan roads and isolate the same from other lanes with a barrier.

One sees pedestrian bridges coming up in cities and even in small towns, but a mere handful of people use the facility, preferring to risk life and limb to dash across the busy road, squeeze through iron grill dividers on the island and repeat the exercise in the far lane, to reach their destination. Perhaps, construction of tunnels instead of bridges may resolve this issue since there appears to be a certain reluctance by my fellow citizens to climb steps and climb down again. I have seen such tunnels in Moscow and am voicing my opinion based on the rationale why these underground passages were built. We also need more pick and drop bays so that passengers can be picked up and dropped safely by public transport, away from cars that whiz by, too close for comfort.

We can however build tunnels, bays and lanes, but everything will come to naught if we don’t take the one single step that spells success or failure – ruthless enforcement.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.