Yesterday was the 82nd anniversary of the inauguration of pubic transport in Kerala. But the state unfortunately woke up on that day with a shocking news of a tragedy. The KSRTC Volvo bus from Bengaluru to Ernakulam had a major accident in Avinashi, near Tiruppur in Tamil Nadu in which 19 lives were lost. A majority of the dead were youth naturally with dreams of a new world. And it transpires that the bus crew had won a place in the hearts of regular passsengers as men for their service-readiness and good manners. The price paid for the sleepiness of the driver of the container - that hit the bus at high speed - was the dreams and hopes of 19 families; a price nobody can repay. How many more lives are to be lost in road accidents for us learn that the penalty of laxity and carelessness is so unlimited? How many more times should the screams of the bereaved be repeated?
The accident at Avinashi is the biggest in KSRTC's recent history. The container truck carrying tiles to Ernakulam lost control and hit the right middle portion of the bus. By preliminary assessments, such a devastating hit resulted from the failure to follow the basic driving lesson that during long drives, especially at night, the driver should have got sufficient breaks with sleep. According to what Kerala minister VS Sunil Kumar and Palakkad RTO Shivakumar told mediapersons, when the driver fell asleep the container lost control and hit the divider, then its tyre burst and the container rammed into the bus coming in the opposite direction. It so happens that in most of the road accidents of Kerala that shocked people, the villain of the piece is drivers' somnolence, especially in the small hours, more specifically between 2 and 5 a.m. And 80 per cent of accidents at night happened during those hours.
The mechanisms in place to ensure that drivers of inter-state vehicles like the containers get sufficient rest, are grossly inadequate. It is imperative to strengthen night-time inspections to check whether drivers have got sufficient rest. There should be means to prevent driving over 150 kilometers without sufficient rest. The firms that appoint the drivers also have a binding to comply with traffic policies. Only when transport companies scrupulously follow such traffic regulations can such heart-breaking disasters be obviated. But as things stgand now, many companies even fix the compensation for drivers on the basis of the duration in which goods are delivered to the destinations. For that very reason, in the haste to meet such deadlines drivers are forced to skip rest and resort to overspeed. And if recklessness and driving without rest are the causes of such accidents, the employing firms also have to be booked as accused. Only then can such tendencies be checked to some extent.
The fact that when it comes to road safety, different states have different policies and laws, becomes a shield for violators. There are major variations between policies and rules in matters ranging from maximum peremitted speed and speed governor to vehicle design and nature of emergency exists with breakable glass windows. If accidents along national highways and express highways are to be curtailed, unified policy at national level is essential. Further, all states should put one unified law in force across states. Otherwise, the safety regulations followed in Kerala will cease to exist the moment vehicles cross the state border.
A total of 400 lives are lost per day in road accidents in India. It is no small matter that more people die on the roads in India than the number of people dying in war zones like Syria. The number of deaths by road accidents in Kerala is also alarming, i.e. 12 each day. Over Rs 1,000 crore is spent as a result of such accidents. Despite so many accidents happening, it is a sad fact that Keralite society, which has global access and exposure, has not been able to evolve its tradition into a culture of obeying road safety regulations. What a shame then that we are living in a mind-set with no compunction about violating laws! It is not about traffic rule litteracy alone, but about having a mind-set of observing laws even if there is no one to see it. Only in a society that sees violations as dishonourable can such disasters be prevented. And the real homage to those who lost lives in the Avinashi tragedy can be paid only by those who can pledge that the first and last consideration on the road will be safety.