Aug 9, 2011

Driving home advocacy messages


It was cold wintry morning at Wangduephodrang. The narrow road along the congested town lay icy and slippery. The sun was about to rise. A friend of mine and I were braving the cold, waiting for an early ride to Thimphu. The previous day the two of us got stranded at Trongsa as our bus left us behind. We followed the bus at close distance but our hope of catching was lessening as the darkness fell on us. We decided to spend the night at a shop that belonged to someone whom my friend knew. As guests we had no option but to wake up early that morning. And we were waiting outside the shop for unlikely ride.

And as we were waiting outside, we saw an early man riding a scooter speed by us. We thought the man had some urgent errands to attend to, but to our surprise, he returned a few seconds later, driving at an aggravated baby cheetah’s speed. No wonder the company branded the scooter “Chetak”. We agreed he could make good policeman.  And to our amazement, the scooter came again as usual speeding as he approached us. For the next half an hour, the two of us felt like we were witnessing a motorcycle race on this narrow street. We thought the man was learning to ride, but from the way he rode as he crossed us did not suggest anything of that sort. 

He was simply showing off his skill and as he gained more confidence, the man tried to ride it without holding the steering handle. Sometimes he stood up in the air, specifically as he approached us. The two of us were watching him with increased attention. But enough was enough. The rider must have exhibited all his skills, when this thing happened.  This time the scooter did not respond to the command of his rider – it skidded, slipped and crashed a few meters away from the rider, who had landed on the tarmac in front of us headlong. We were frozen like statues and didn’t know what to do. He gathered enough energy and limped towards the machine. He restarted the engine. That was the last time we saw the man.

We are all like that.

The more attention we get the more attention we need to gather from others who are looking and observing us. Most of us have to show off so much to others and the need to gain admiration from others is so great that we can go to any extent possible. Our pride is such that it manifests in different forms.It is also clearly evident from the way we drive our expensive cars. As if we have encountered some dreaded enemies we accelerate, especially on approaching some people on the way.

The guy on the scooter, I am sure, would not have rode like the way we did if we were not watching him or showing interest in watching him ride. What interests me most was the part where he tried to ride his scooter standing without even holding onto the machines.

On the highway, arrogant truck drivers want to go fast and it pains their hearts to provide way for the smaller vehicles behind them. They race like sports car fully loaded. They rule the road and their confidence is praiseworthy. Unless you back your cars, these giants keep on pushing their ways through. This often creates periodic commotions on the on the narrow highways. They want to overtake others in odd places and corners. This is overconfidence. This is lack of understanding on the road. This is a deficiency of proper driving etiquettes in our young drivers. And this makes driving on the narrow roads especially inconvenient traumatic experience in Bhutan.

Our drivers need to cultivate sound driving etiquettes those that go even beyond rules and regulations set by the regulators. That human understanding – for instance, I particularly like the way our truck drivers respond and acknowledge other drivers, who wait for them to pass. They do so by trumpeting their horns. I am sure this is not in RSTA rules! But that adds human touch to these machines! That way we have safer and friendlier highways and streets in Bhutan.

“Start early/Drive slow[ly]/ Reach safely,” reads a signboard on the highway maintained by DANTAK. These awareness messages are poetically crafted that anyone passing by would reflect on their content. Besides their high quality road construction, what DANTAK officials have done through these signboards is praiseworthy. They remind the drivers the preciousness of human lives and suggest them to drive slowly. “Reach home in peace not in pieces,” says one. “Don’t mix drinking with driving,” warns another only to be supplemented by “After rum driving is no more fun.” Our highways are filled with such advocacy messages and this is my favorite, “Drive slower/Live longer.” That’s exactly the type of reminders we need on the highways and that our speeding drivers need. DANTAK’s consistent effort in this is highly commendable and they deserve all our acknowledgement and gratitude.

This is an important medium that we need to employ driving home the advocacy messages geared towards stopping child labor, increasing awareness on education, HIV/AIDS, hazards of drinking, ill effects of tobacco products to list a few. Such messages should be displayed on our other highways too.



P.S: Printed in Bhutan Times


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