Manipur is observing Road Safety Week now and we should take advantage of the occasion to ponder the reasons behind the increase in number of road mishaps and fatalities in our localities. The works minister Dr Kh Ratan while speaking at one of the functions on Tuesday rightly pointed out that in addition to the need for smooth road surfaces, there is an emergent need to expand many of the important roads to accommodate the drastic rise in numbers of vehicles as their width have remained more or less the same to what it was decades ago. Moreover, modern vehicles have improved cruise control that allows vehicles to travel at phenomenally faster speed and sadly raised the chances of crashing into each other or other moving or stationary objects.
But the mainstay for lessening the rate or road accidents is the law enforcement and the power vested to them. The mishaps can be lessened and even avoided by enforcing effective laws. Jumping the question whether the traffic rules in Manipur are adequate or not, we have to accept that strict enforcement of existing traffic laws or their adherence by the commuters have not been observed in Imphal city or for that matter elsewhere in the state. Policemen in charge of traffic regulations are mostly unaware of the content of the rule book that defines how they should administer the traffic and many of them engaged in dishonest tactics to extort money from vehicle owners. Also, people pay no heed to the traffic rules because they do not feel the threat of punishment. Or being chased till they are caught for wrongdoing on the road as the number of personnel in charge of traffic control is disproportionate to the number of vehicles plying. Thus, there is an urgent need to increase the size of traffic police. The avoidance of the matter by the administration so far is bewildering, specially in the backdrop of the non-stop recruitment of armed personnel and police modernization works. A stronger traffic force and stricter laws will create deterrents for people breaking traffic rules.
Overriding the minister’s views on road widening will be unwise, because it is an accurate observation. There are many segments in Imphal where traffic congestion is very high and the frequency of vehicles running into each other is very high as well, even though fatalities may be very rare. Widening of roads will also create space for footpaths and lessen the risks of pedestrian getting hit. In our state some of the roads are so narrow that in areas with heavy volume of traffic flow the pedestrians and vehicles practically move side by side. There will also be no disagreement on the fact that majority of the accidents are caused by careless and high speed driving, i.e when the drivers accelerate the speed of their vehicles undesirably or there is diversion of attention caused by talking on the phone, feeling drowsy or pre-occupation with other things while driving. Drunk driving is a serious offence and another major cause for accidents. Reasons which appeared less serious like ignoring traffic signals or priority rights of other drivers or treading on the wrong direction and the conditions of the vehicles themselves are also major contributing factors. The problems caused by the inferior vehicles should be given due importance as many vehicles in Manipur are second hand ones bought from other states. In conclusion, the administration should reckon that traffic accidents are big problems which are better prevented. As a means for its achievement, the administration should take up road safety campaigns and ensure the participation and active involvement of as many people as possible. Children could be given early exposure and be disciplined about traffic rules in their schools itself.