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Epidemic on wheels

In a horrific incident this week, 11 passengers were killed and 27 were left severely injured after a bus slid off and fell into a deep gorge in the Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir. The bus was en route from Poonch to Gali Midan when it met with the accident near the Brari Nallah in the border belt of Sawjian but there is much more than this one isolated incident.

By | Raashid Andrabi

Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has yielded mind-numbing statistics: 1.5 billion infections and 6.5 million fatalities. However, a similar, less well-known global scourge—traffic deaths and injuries—preceded it and will probably continue indefinitely. The number of fatalities and major injuries on the world’s roadways totals around 1.35 million every year.
From January 1 to July 31 of this year, 3617 vehicle incidents were reported in the district, resulting in 477 fatalities and 4953 injuries. The fact that 60 people have been hurt and 19 have died in traffic accidents within the last 30 days reveals that J&K’s traffic management system urgently needs to be revamped. Numerous studies and figures have been produced that point to poor road engineering, potholed roads, reckless driving, or even corruption in the local department of transportation as reasons why J&K is among the most dangerous regions in India to drive around.

Abid Nazir, a 19-year-old boy from Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir met an accident on the Jammu-Kashmir highway last year. “I was involved in a car accident in August last year. The mishap occurred around 2:00 in the afternoon. I survived the crash with a broken arm, but my car was wrecked.” Abid said.
“I had to wait nine weeks to get my broken arm healed. I became a drag to the people I love the most, requiring support with eating, dressing and even taking a shower. I was unable to even go to the grocery store to buy groceries. I had to have someone with me wherever I went. I felt helpless, useless, and an annoyance to everyone. My life has been entirely wrecked by this accident, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s possible that I won’t ever be the same again; I don’t know what will happen.” he added.

Addl. SP Traffic, City Srinagar, Tariq Ahmad Wani said, “Drivers’ negligence, rash driving, and disregard for traffic rules, such as the usage of seat belts and helmets, are the leading causes of these incidents. The biggest threat right now is the issuance of licenses without the necessary assessment.” When questioned about the state’s efforts to reduce the frequency of accidents occurring, Tariq Ahmad said, “We have regularly organized campaigns with various NGOs to spread awareness about the safety precautions that must be followed. We are also taking tough measures against juvenile drivers and a slew of other rule violators. Such checks and balances have reduced the number of accidents in Srinagar.”

“I in addition want to emphasize to every ambulance driver that life is valuable regardless of whether it is being carried inside the vehicle or outside; therefore, they should drive extremely carefully as they are not being stopped anywhere,” he added.

For the past few years, an NGO called the Kashmir Road Safety Foundation (KRSF) has been raising traffic awareness in the valley. This organization’s primary goal is to raise public understanding of traffic and road safety regulations. Nasir Ali Khan, the organization’s founder, claims that up till now, the club has worked with the Regional Transport Office (RTO) to organize various awareness camps and programs to encourage drivers to adhere to traffic laws.

Nasir said “We have long blamed the government for road accidents, but people fail to recognize their responsibilities. Only if people correctly adhere to the rules will the number of mishaps decrease. Moreover, the most pressing issue right now is the large number of teenage people who drive recklessly on the roads. Recently, we conducted an on-road inspection of the school buses of elite institutions in Srinagar and we were astonished to see that the majority of the buses lacked any sort of first aid kit. Parents and school authorities don’t discuss these issues; all they do is collect the regular fee.”

Additionally, Nasir remarked that the District road safety committees are entirely ineffective. He claimed that nobody even realized such a committee existed and that it would only be in function during National Road Safety Week.

In an effort to make roads safer and to educate people about traffic laws, the Kashmir Road Safety Foundation and the Srinagar traffic police have launched several safety campaigns. Making streets safer doesn’t require developing novel treatments in labs, unlike the COVID-19 pandemic. The commitment to use tried-and-true tools is what is required.