Saturday, February 28, 2004

Go for traffic education
Reeta Sharma

Parents should be held accountable for traffic violations by under-age drivers

CHANDIGARH has far better roads and parking places than any other city in the country, yet it is headed towards a situation of total traffic anarchy. It is also facing the problems of paucity of parking space and large-scale traffic violations. In the past five years, the traffic scene has changed enormously. The city has the highest number of per capita vehicles in the country. An inadequate and outdated public transport system forces people to acquire their own vehicles. Easy finance schemes make it easier to own vehicles. Each middle class home today has at least one four-wheeler and one two-wheeler, as per a survey.

Upper-class households have, on an average, one four-wheel vehicle for each member of the family. The lower middle classes and the poor have to either depend on cycles or rickshaws or three-wheelers. As against the requirement of 3,000 rickshaws in the city, there are over 15,000 on the roads. The rickshaw-wallas come to Chandigarh straight from their villages in UP, Orissa or Bihar. Hence, one cannot blame them for being totally ignorant of traffic rules.

The population of Chandigarh now stands at 10 lakh, which is more than double the number the city had been planned for. This further cripples the movement of traffic. Mushrooming marketplaces and office complexes highlight Chandigarh Administrationís failure to provide adequate parking space. A majority of these markets and offices have been constructed in the past one decade. Yet, Chandigarh Administration never planned for the inevitable increase in vehicles and road users. These new buildings not only have no provision for parking spaces in their architectural design but also open on the main roads, thus adding to the traffic chaos.

Drivers in Chandigarh, irrespective of their class, are as horrendous as anywhere else in the country. Indian drivers, as a rule, have very little training or knowledge of road signs or traffic rules. So whether it is a doctor, a lawyer, a bureaucrat, a student, a journalist or a rickshaw-walla, all drivers violate traffic rules with impunity.

Parents and teachers must take responsibility for not instilling any sense of responsibility among students towards the use of roads and vehicles. The police cannot teach people to use roads and vehicles safely. This is primarily the duty of parents and teachers. The role of the police is only to catch hold of violators. But if the violators are dime a dozen, how long can the police take the burden?

In First World countries, parents are held legally accountable for violations that vulnerability of children may cause. For instance, if a child were running unsupervised on the road, its parents would be arrested for letting it happen. In India, on the contrary, if a child runs out of the house and rams into a vehicle, the driver would be punished. He would either go to jail or pay a hefty compensation to buy a compromise with the parents. Neither the society, or the police or the judiciary would ever question the parents for letting the child run on the road.

The accountability of parents has not been brought under any legal provisions. As a result, we have come to believe that it is the duty of every driver on the road to ensure the safety of the children in the age group of four to 18 years. The fact that most parents have not been able to convince their daughters to wear helmets also shows that Indian parents have never made any conscious effort to ensure the safety of their children. Under-age drivers, too, are representative of this failure on the part of parents.

I have often felt that traffic rules and regulations should be made part of school syllabi from Class I, as is the practice in the First World countries. One wonders why the CBSE has never thought of doing this.

This feature was published on January 31, 2004