By Sanjay Pinto

One fifth of the urban population in South India is estimated to suffer from hypertension. It’s a medical research finding. Everytime you drive on the city’s roads, you cannot help wondering if that figure is grossly under-reported. The presence of timers at traffic signals does little to soothe the nerves of blokes at the wheel who keep honking behind you, like there is no tomorrow, the moment the countdown touches 7 or 8 seconds, when the light is still red. This is an early symptom of road rage. Nervous motorists may be induced to jump the signal and this may result in an accident.

The Motor Vehicles Act must have a new category of offences like inducement to violate traffic rules. When driving tests are a farce in our country and medical certificates are sold through touts for a hundred rupees, without even seeing the applicants, is it any surprise that you have misfits as drivers pushing up our blood pressure and endangering lives.

The good old traffic guideline to ‘Stop, Look & Proceed’ has given way to the new rash mantra of  ‘Honk, Race & Jump Signals’. Earlier, the presence of a cop would be a deterrent. The new breed of violators just don’t seem to care. Driving on the wrong side of the road is the new display of bravado. There was a time when the violators would sport a sheepish smile. Now, they give you such dirty looks as if you are the offender. God forbid, if they dart across the road from some narrow by-lane or collide head-on with you, don’t be surprised if you are greeted with a shower of the choicest expletives; that’s after the pan masala is squirted on the road, bazooka style.

Then there are school zones with ‘One Way’ boards so thoughtfully erected by the traffic police but seldom enforced. I suspect this is a low priority for a wing that is terribly short staffed with more pressing commitments like VVIP bandobust. Ironically, such arrangements meant for the safety of school children, are rendered meaningless by parents themselves who violate the rule and choose short-cuts to beat the morning blues. Such irresponsible folks, and indeed anyone who violates a One Way system near a school, deserve to be booked. The catch is that under the existing Motor Vehicles Act, the offender can only be slapped with a fine of a hundred rupees. Never mind the inherently dangerous act of overspeeding on a One Way stretch with unsuspecting tiny tots crossing the road. We are a country that specialises in knee jerk reactions and only an accident will wake us up. Or will it?

It’s not just overspeeding that is a menace. What about overloaded rickety State Transport Buses that ply in the middle of the road at an exasperating speed of 20 kmph? You cannot overtake them without the risk of being shoved into the centre median. Here, necessary honking will have zero effect. Or share autos that weave their own ‘magic’ by stopping to pick up passengers in the middle of the road, just at a turning or any odd spot. Their instinct is to stop at once, the moment a passenger waves, bumper to bumper traffic behind notwithstanding.

The worst of the lot are political vehicles with those banned air horns blaring away. Who cares if the red beacons are off. There’s the official symbol of  ‘immunity’ in the form of a party flag and white veshti inhabitants giving you menacing looks. The elected ones are meant to serve us. And this is one way of thanking us for voting them or their party to power. Some Constitutional functionaries of course, are traffic stoppers, by default. 

But why blame drivers alone? The ubiquitous manhole covers that make their presence felt by jutting out a few inches above the road or sunk inside by a few inches, either way, a perfect death trap, especially for two-wheeler riders, who, remember are wise enough to protect their fuel tanks with helmets. As for car drivers, a swerve may prove risky. Discretion is letting your suspension take the rap. We conquer outer space but don’t seem to know how to place manhole covers at the road level.

Crib, crib, crib. What’s the solution? Here’s one. If officers in key posts drive themselves, incognito, once a week, and get a feel of what the common man goes through everyday, the bumpy rides and the rabid honking at signals, maybe, just maybe, these woes would get the attention they deserve. Till that happens, the new age cure for low blood pressure – twitter, will have company. A two kilometre drive on our city roads. Forwarding whatsapp jokes while driving can fast track results! 

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, TV Political Commentator, Author, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)