You must have heard or seen these statements at some point in your road life; ‘Don’t drink and drive’, ‘Drive safely because someone is waiting for you at home’, ‘Alert today, Alive tomorrow’, ‘Do not mix drinking and driving’, ‘No belt, No brains’, ‘No safety, Know pain’ and many more. Well, these are some examples of the coercive, emotional, passive aggressive, sarcastic and pun-filled carefully crafted ad slogans that transport departments across the world use to warn road users to stay safe.
I don’t know about other countries but in India such messages mainly play the role of placing the onus on the road users to stay safe rather than honestly caring for road users; some elected officials deliver this hypocrisy personally in radio advertisements. Have you ever heard of an ad saying ‘Avoid the potholes or you will be dead’, ‘This road may kill you because there is poor lighting’, ‘No signals, use at your own risk’, ‘By using this road you accept the risk of dying and your kin can sue the contractor or rain for it’ and the answer is obviously ‘no’; No government officer will incriminate himself because that will be honest and stupid and honesty is the last thing you expect from a public servant and stupid they are not.
We can debate at length about how much each human, vehicle, road maintenance, victim and environmental factor contributes to the death and injury tolls that occur due to road traffic accidents (read here) but unilaterally accusing human factors in media campaigns may not help much. I have thought about this for a long time now but have learnt to accept the fact and ignore the possibilities.
Alright, let’s come to the point. My wife. She is a thing of peculiar habits. I cannot tell you about all but I’ll discuss one relevant habit today. Every morning when I leave for work, she accompanies me to the gate and sees me off till my car exits her line of sight. She has been at it since our marriage and so far I have ‘unsuccessfully’ discouraged her from doing so as she has many other important things to take care of in those busy morning hours.
I thought she was being sentimental but did not tell her for fear of hurting her feelings and did not bother her anymore. I did not put much thought into her 5-minute bustle either. As time flew by her behavior grew upon me and I almost became dependent on it; I would not leave unless she stood there at the gate and waved me goodbye. I don’t know why but maybe it just became a conditioned reflex!
Accepting the defeat of not being able to stop her fastidiousness, I gave into her and started observing her more intently during that 5-minute encounter between entering the car and driving off. This is when I realized that she was almost ritualistically following this protocol. She would do all the girly stuff, close my door and then mumble something, keeping her eyes on me all the time. I don’t think she noticed me noticing her (to this minute she is blissfully unaware, I guess). Many a time, I wanted to ask her what she mumbled every day while sending me off but refrained myself because I didn’t want to startle her and modify whatever she was doing (a truly observational study).
In fact, I did not have to ask her because I knew exactly what she was uttering so softly with such passion and commitment that you can see in a 3-year-old trying to eat an ice-cream without spilling. I most certainly think that she was praying to the gods (no, the God - she is a strict monotheist) to keep me safe on the highways of death.
I can’t say if god has the power to prevent road traffic accidents but governments surely do. I don’t drink and drive (because I don’t drink), I always wear seatbelts, I never drive in the opposite lane, I never cross speed limits, I maintain my car, I pay my taxes (in the hope that better roads will be built) and I follow all (well, almost all because I too am a human) the rules. I may not have been the best of drivers but I have strived to be better. But if the non-me factors such as the surprise pothole nightmare, the stressed bus driver who took on the added responsibility of population control, the malfunctioning signal, the signage lack, the corruption, the lack of political will and the bureaucratic apathy are not taken care of, what am I supposed to do?!
Even without any media campaigns advising me to be responsible for my safety on the roads, there is one thing that will keep me safe always; whenever I feel the urge to make a rash decision on the road I will be reigned in by the memory of the passionate face that utters the mumbled prayer.