The world may be a big place but, in developed countries, it does not matter where you go, the problems stay the same. So in India which is the second most populous country, there’s a real problem both in the number of vehicles on the road, and in the standard of driving. It’s a sad fact, but driving conditions are chaotic and the new national government of Narendra Modi is proposing measures to make the roads safer. Today, you might be on the road in your new luxury vehicle alongside trucks, buses, rickshaws, elephants, and cows. And, unfortunately, it’s not just the animals that have no lane discipline or consider the use of mirrors a strange foreign practice unsuited for local roads. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, more than 150,000 people are killed on India’s roads every year in the 1.5 million accidents that are recorded. When you realize the majority of accidents are not recorded, you will understand the number of deaths is also probably an underestimate. No one is sure how many hundreds of thousands are merely injured. There’s a culture of ignoring the law and, because police officers are underpaid, bribery is at epidemic levels. The new proposed law will impose strict penalties for routine offenses like speeding and failing to stop at red lights. If the number of police officers can be increased, properly trained, and paid a salary that makes bribery unnecessary as a men of buying food, there’s hope for the overall safety of humans. Cows are, of course, a sacred animal. If anyone injures or kills a cow, the crowds of devotees can kill the driver if they catch him or her. That’s why very few cows are ever injured.
Delhi is also increasing the standard of its driving tests. Everyone applying for a learner’s permit must pass a theory exam, and there’s a practical test to obtain a full diver’s license. In the first six months of 2013, almost 400,000 people sat the test and 95% got their driver’s license. In the first six months of 2014, almost 25% of those applying for a full license failed, while 31% of those sitting the theory test failed. People who attend are videoed and their identities checked. The theory question database has been expanded, and the practical driving test made more strict. This would all be making the capital city’s roads safer were it not for the fact that corrupt members of the civil service working for the Department of Motor Vehicles are happy to sell licenses for the right price. With no proper system of enforcement, the fact people fail the tests does not stop them from driving.
Now you may wonder why this article should focus on driving in India. You may just smile indulgently and say this is only what you would expect of such a “backward” country. But here’s the thing. At present, cows are better protected on the roads than all humans. Laws can be enforced if India wants higher safety standards. So why are so many young people dying on American roads? Do we not accept that the enforcement of better testing standards might reduce deaths and serious injuries?