Addressing road safety in Nagaland

Christina Walling
Deaf Biblical Ministry, Naharbari, Dimapur

The road from Dimapur to Kohima is punctuated by concrete signages that emphasize the importance of road safety. We ought to applaud the early efforts made by the BRO to encourage safe driving practices among the travellers. As children, these signages were the only source of entertainment we had during a journey that seemed to never end. But today, after decades of plying the same roads, we have become numb to these potentially lifesaving adages. They are now empty words that echo across the lonely hills. We have all been taught about road safety at one point or another: be it as a topic in our school lessons, or as admonishing from our elders, or from the media. Sadly, slogans like “Don’t drink and drive”, “Speed thrills but kills”, and “Drive slower, live longer” have lost the depth of their meaning to us. People think that these slogans are for everyone else except them.

Today, we live in a rapidly developing world where there are CCTVs everywhere, cars fitted with dash cams and almost everyone is in possession of a smart phone ready to take pictures and videos anytime, anywhere. Road mishaps and loss of life through road traffic accidents are no longer mere paragraphs or grainy black and white photos in the newspapers. They are graphic photos and videos being telecast in the news and circulated through social media. One would think that this would turn us into more careful drivers and pedestrians. But the number of road accidents and loss of lives through these accidents only seem to have risen over the years.

Many people have lost their lives in road traffic accidents. However, loss of life is not the only outcome of these accidents. A survivor of an accident may be left with life altering disabilities that change the course of their lives. I have seen the dreams of a young man aspiring to become a doctor come crashing down when he and his friends were involved in a car accident. I have also seen a person whose life was saved just because he had his seatbelt on during a horrible crash that caused the death of his fellow passengers. There is no small or big road safety practice. Even the seemingly small act of wearing your seat belt determines whether you survive an accident or not.

So, who is responsible for making our roads safer? The age old accepted answer would be that the government and the citizens are both responsible for making our roads safer. But is this just another cluster of empty words stringed together that are repeated over and over again just to make ourselves feel good? Is this an answer that allows us to point our fingers at the other party and shift the blame on them? The first step we can take to make the roads safer is to move away from our victim mentality and to acknowledge the fact that though there is still so much more that needs to be done by both the government and the people, effort has indeed been made by both parties towards achieving this goal.

With the construction of the four lane road, we have observed that the number of road signages along the highway has significantly increased. These signs warn us of sharp turns, falling rocks, landslide prone areas etc. We also see and read of campaigns being undertaken by the traffic police personnel where they ensure that riders of two wheelers wear their helmets and follow road safety rules. These are but tiny drops that make the ocean; gestures that seem insignificant on their own, but have definitely saved lives. With support, encouragement, feedback and constructive criticism from the people, we can push the government and concerned authorities to take more steps towards making the roads safer for us.

Next, we need to look into the mirror and examine ourselves. When we say that the citizens are equally responsible for making the roads safer, we tend to exclude ourselves from this responsibility. It becomes ‘their’ responsibility, not ‘mine’. This is where we need to claim this responsibility and make it ‘mine’. Many of us are also guilty of having double standards when it comes to following traffic rules. When I am driving and am stuck in heavy traffic, I vehemently dislike and disapprove of the auto rickshaws that squeeze between the cars and the footpath, cutting through the long line. But when I am a passenger in the auto rickshaw, the auto drivers are suddenly geniuses who have just saved me from being stuck in traffic for too long. In this case, we are of the mindset that “It is not okay for them to do it, but it is okay for me to do the same”. This tendency of bending the rules according to our convenience is dangerous and poses a risk to the pedestrians and the occupants of the cars around us.

Following road safety rules is not just for our own safety, but it is also an expression of the respect we have for the lives of others. Reckless and careless driving only reflects the utter contempt the driver has towards the lives of the people on the road. It shows that they do not value the lives of those people. Such people do not deserve to hold a driver’s license and must be kept off the roads.

As much as it is imperative for the government to ensure that no underage driving happens, it is largely the responsibility of the parents to keep their underage children from driving vehicles, particularly two wheelers. Should anything happen to their child, how can any parent bear to live with the guilt of knowing that they could have prevented it? An even greater tragedy would be if the life of an innocent passerby was lost because of the carelessness of their child. Rules that prohibit underage driving are put in place for a reason. A child is not matured enough to understand the lasting consequences of reckless driving. They are still developing and are at the age where they think that nothing would happen to them. And yet we see many young children riding two wheelers ‘within the colony’. Are the parents feeding the illusion that no accidents can happen if they ride within their colony? The law is the law, and it applies to these small colony roads as much as it does to the highways. It is undeniable that the government plays a vital role in not only providing good and safe roads, but also in making policies and enforcing rules that make the roads safe for the people. And it is the people’s duty to abide by these rules and to aide in maintaining the roads and other resources provided by the government. Measures taken to ensure road safety will be ineffective if only the government is responsible for it. Similarly, the people by themselves will not be able to effectively enforce any kind of road safety protocol without the help of the government. Both parties need each other to take up the very important task of reducing the fatalities caused by failure to comply with the road safety rules. One good example of such partnership between the authorities and the people is the video released a few years ago by Dreamz Unlimited in collaboration with the Dimapur Traffic Police creating awareness about safe driving practices in the then newly constructed four lane highway. The popularity of the Dreamz Unlimited team made it possible for the message to reach a larger group of population who had the most potential of making a difference in the road safety scenario in Nagaland. The Government can continue to take the help of social media influencers and local celebrities to appeal to their myriad of followers to adhere to the road safety rules.

Apart from the government and the people working hand in hand to achieve better road safety, there is a third party that plays an important role in contributing to road safety. These are the automobile manufacturing companies. These companies have guidelines that they must follow and fulfill to ensure the safety of their customers. As consumers, it is our duty to make informed choices and to purchase cars that provide the most safety to the passengers. We should create a demand for vehicles that are proven to have followed the safety guidelines as closely as possible. Vehicles with superior safety features should be prioritized above everything else. The safety of our loved ones must not be compromised.

The official website of the Motor Vehicles Department, Government of Nagaland is an excellent resource that explains the rules of road safety in brief and in simple terms. It also directs us to relevant links to help us gain access to other important resources. Perhaps drawing from these resources and sharing them with others will motivate us to be more mindful about observing the rules of road safety. As responsible and law abiding citizens, it is our duty to know the law of the land and to follow them, which includes obeying road safety and traffic rules.

We acknowledge that there needs to be a radical change in the way road safety is handled by the authorities. We speak of stricter rules and harsher penalties. However, when they are enforced, we are the first to complain against them and we try to find loopholes in the system. We cannot expect to see development when we ourselves are the biggest obstacles.

It is said that one never stops learning and that we are never too old to learn. But perhaps the older generation and the present generation are too far gone. For so long have we been flying through the bumpy roads and highway as though each of us owned the roads, and have become so used to our carefree ways of driving that we now struggle to stay within the lines of the traffic safety rules. But it does not always have to be like this. The next generation can be better; we can teach them to be better. One of the first road safety rules I learned as a child was to look left and right before crossing the road. This was in grained in me so much that even now, with the four lane road where the cars come only from one direction on one side of the road divider, I still find myself looking both sides before crossing the road. It is almost like a reflex that I do without even thinking. I believe that safe road practices should be taught and modeled as early as possible to our children so that it becomes second nature to them.

Sometimes I drive around our compound, my toddler on the passenger side with his seat belt on because I want him to become familiar with it and to be comfortable in it. Road safety starts with me and my family. I hope that we will imbibe our children with good road safety practices that it becomes a way of life for them, and not mere rules to be followed.

If each one of us take on this responsibility of bringing up children in whom practicing road safety comes as naturally to them as switching on the lights when entering a darkroom, I would say that we have done our part in saving the lives of our children and of the future generations; that we too have had a hand in creating a more civilized society. We must remember that road safety is MY responsibility and it begins with ME and MY family.

Winner of the State Level Essay Writing Competition organized by the Motor Vehicles Department in collaboration with the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) during the National Road Safety Month, 2024.