Sudden economic boom has set off a wave of vehicles in Ladakh. But in the absence of a comprehensive approach to road safety, accidents have taken their toll. From 2011 to Nov, 2016, 639 accidents have taken place in Leh district alone. As many as 176 people were killed and 539 injured in these accidents. On an average, 30 deaths and 118 injured cases have been reported annually in Leh.
This data serves as a reminder that safety on our roads needs to be given the highest priority by the government as well as the public. Everyone should keep in mind the ‘Four Es’ of road safety -- Education, Engineering, Enforcement and Environment.
Winters happen to be festive season in Ladakh; and, therefore, because of drunken-driving during such occasions, the number of deaths increases. Marriages take place and most of the celebrations are in winter. Ladakhis are known for their hospitality; they don't even spare the drivers during such occasions. As a result, more accidents take place.
The main reason for accident cases are due to negligence on road, disregard for traffic rules, dangerous and reckless driving, driving under the influence of liquor and bad engineering of roads. Most roads are in a deplorable state, making it impossible to observe traffic rules. Then there is a general lack of awareness of basic traffic rules and the absence of traffic signage. Finally, neither passengers nor commercial vehicles come equipped with the basic safety features. It is common to drive without a license or seat belt.
The general public is reluctant to help accident victims for fear of getting caught up in court cases, while medical help is often too little, too late. There is the need to build a good relation between police and public so that timely help can be given to the victims.
Most of us have seen drivers speeding along with their mobile phones pressed to their ear with one hand while driving with the other hand. This means there is a lack of road safety campaigns and are clearly failing to get the message across among the people.
Roads are unsafe because of shortcomings in road and traffic engineering, old and non-standard codes of traffic control devices, poor driver training and assessment, outdated legislations and a poor enforcement system.
The matters have been made worse by the commercial van drivers, which have become a menace across the Leh city. They stop wherever they want to, be it in the middle of the road or a slope. Trucks are a particular problem. Overloaded, badly maintained and driven aggressively, they are a serious threat to other road users.
In Ladakh, we do not understand the importance of seatbelts for passengers in buses and for passengers seated in the back of smaller vehicles. If rules were implemented, I am sure we could have saved many lives and prevented injuries as lesser people would have been thrown out due to accident impact.
The planning and engineering of roads remain a neglected area which requires a thorough overhaul. Reforms to improve road safety cannot be delayed any longer.
The authorities should restrict truck movements during night, upgrade the roads, install street lights and put up more signboards. Meanwhile, there are simple ways of protecting people on the roads. A good start can be made by investing in pedestrian infrastructure and better public transport system. It has been established that such measures lower accident risks dramatically. Funds, running into several crores a year, should finance safety infrastructure, driver training and modernisation.
Let us join hands and take all initiatives to safeguard our lives on roads and avoid making silly mistakes that could lead to loss of precious lives.