The World Health Organization’s status report on road safety could be looked from two angles. We can take pride in the findings of the report where it commended our helmet and drink-driving rules. The pedestrian death rate from road accidents is also the lowest in the region.
We could relish in the commendation and not do anything or start worrying for the failings it pointed out. Doing the latter would mean ensuring safety for passengers, drivers and pedestrians. It strongly points out the poor enforcement of safety rules.
We have a host of rules. The only problem, even without a WHO report pointing out, is clear. We are good at framing rules, but not so much when it comes to implementing and monitoring them. Bhutanese motorists cannot drive without buckling up, talk on the phone while driving, park in the middle of the road or honk in restricted places, like the hospital area. How many are following the rules? How many are penalized?
The seat belt rule is now inexistent. Those who made the rules have given up on it. Others are only good on paper. The only rule being enforced strictly is the Zero Tolerance for alcohol on Fridays. We can safely assume that the government had made some money from the fines and police saved some lives because they prohibited people under the influence of alcohol from driving at late night. If all days were Zero Tolerance days, the safety record would improve.
If chances of dying in a road accident whether as a driver or a passenger is higher in Bhutan than in the often unruly traffic in neighbouring cities, it is a cause of concern. Our capital city and towns are not as congested as those in India or Bangladesh, but we have our own problems.
This starts with the number of cars on our roads and towns. Given the sudden surge in the number of vehicles the country imports, the numbers would be too much for our roads to carry and towns to accommodate. Some of the roads in the city are not safe while some are accidents waiting to happen. The driving culture too is poor. This is not helped by people piling up construction materials on the side of roads.
Safety records will improve if people cooperate by following rules. The authorities will not gain anything if you can get away, say hiding the phone on seeing a traffic police or unbuckling once you cross the city. These rules are for our own safety. But again it is wrong to give up saying nobody is following the rules.
A good excuse our agencies and authorities always give is the lack of legal teeth. There is no excuse when even with legal backing rules are not implemented. With strict enforcement, people will understand the benefits and come in line. Who would challenge a safety rule?