Roads or death traps?

Transportation enables us to interact and share with one another the ideas, cultures and other allied developments across towns, cities and distant borders. With the latest advancement, the process of transportation has emerged as swift and user-friendly. Road, air, and water transport are advanced much since its inception making them more safe and fast. Among them, roads are the earliest and also the most common mode of transport. Roadways are indeed the lifeline of country’s economy. They connect various parts of a region for movement of goods and people with safety. Starting from the invention of wheel, it has traversed a long way of time to present day heavy duty trucks and trollers.

The state of J&K has a natural mountainous terrain which has made the roadways prone to weather vagaries and has also acted as a tough examiner of drivers for their driving abilities. The National Highway NH-44 which connects Kashmir valley with rest of the country is often subjected to roadblocks caused due to landslides triggered by the rains. Also, the widening work of the highway caused huge inconvenience to the commuters. The Highway blockage always causes shortage of essentials in the Kashmir valley, thus leading to profiteering in the markets.

In the following lines, I would only focus on another aspect of this Highway which is a cause of concern for both common people and the Government – the loss of life caused by the fatal accidents on the Highway every other day. According to recent data, the number of people killed in road accidents in the state is twice of the number of fatalities — which includes civilians, security forces and militant deaths — caused by unrest in the state.

There are various reasons behind these regular fatal accidents and can be grouped into two categories:

1.            Technical cause

2.            Human cause

Technical cause includes faulty design of curves, super-elevation, carriageway and other engineering parameters. Faulty design subsequently leads to faulty road construction. Take for example the Khooni Nallah (Killer Rivulet) stretch of NH-44 in district Ramban. The reduced carriageway, landslide prone slopes and sharp curves at that particular point often leads to tragic accidents. Other technical cause is the mechanical glitches of the vehicles and fitness of the vehicles. These lead to sudden breakdown or loss of control over the vehicle on roads. Recent tragic Mughal road accident in which 15 passengers lost their lives is a shocking example in which the driver was over-speeding and lost control over vehicle due to locking of steering on applying sudden brakes to save a motor-cyclist from collision. The vehicle fell into gorge as deep as 400 feet. Thorough probe into the incident revealed that the ill-fated vehicle was plying without fitness certificate and valid permit.

Other cause is the human error. This very cause is most common due to which accidents have become order of the day in the state of J&K. For this cause, a no. of factors are responsible. Leniency of parents towards their children allowing them to drive vehicles at a very young age is one of such factors. It is evident that if school-going child is made to sit in driver’s seat and told to drive a car, his naive skill and lack of maturity would probably cause an accident irrespective of the width of the road. Also, the Regional Transport Department allots license to the applicants without any strict trials. Lack on part of Transport Department and loose vigil of Traffic Police on rogue drivers has further aggravated the situation. Human error is the most important factor behind the majority of fatal accidents. Overtaking, Over-speeding, rash driving and road rage are some forms of human error. Due to obvious reasons, human error has more weightage than any other cause.

The latest statistics available on J&K Traffic Police Deptt. official website reveals that there happened 2236 total accidents out of which 302 were fatal accidents injuring 2976 persons and killing 365 from January 2019 to May 2019. Among the injured, 1646 got serious injuries either causing some disability or requiring prolonged medical follow-up. Among the 22 districts of the state, Jammu topped the list followed by Srinagar. The data however doesn’t include the tragic accidents which happened in last two months like frightening accidents in Nowshera, Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban and Mughal road. The cause of these accidents ruled out by Traffic Police department was either over-speeding or some technical snag leading to loss of control over vehicle.

It is worth noting that the age-group of drivers both injured and dead was 18-40 years. Again, the lack of maturity and road rage plays a vital role in these accidents. Adolescents and youth have different psychological make-up. They can’t bear the provocation for long and retaliate with more intensity. The Adrenaline rush at the time of fear, provocation and rage further intensifies the response often leading to fatal accidents. This notion is further fortified by the fact that 86% of accidents are caused by male gender rather than female gender. The typical psychological make-up of mind of male gender is apt for aggression, revenge and rage which are the main causes of road accidents.

To sum up it is the human cause which is behind majority of road accidents in J&K state. Lack of maturity, responsibility on road is the leading reason for such tragic road accidents. Responsibility on part of society, particularly parents to have strict vigil on their children, not to allow them drive vehicles at very young ages. Government also shares equal responsibility in the matter and must allot the driving licenses only after strict diving trials and also execute Traffic rules on roads sternly can assist in curbing such accidents to some extent.

At last, it is the collective human effort that will make difference and drive all of us out of this routine quagmire of deaths on road.

(The author is studying Geo-Technical Engineering from Kurukshetra University)