Riders should realize that the traffic rules are for their safety, and it is every biker’s duty to conduct themself like decent citizens having respect towards traffic rules, traffic police, and other riders on the road.
Every rider always hears one thing from their loved ones or acquaintances, “Ride safe”. Road safety is the number one priority on the road, which is strictly monitored by the traffic department. Riding on the road can be a necessity or a thrill, but there always is danger on the road. Nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, on average, 3,287 deaths a day, with additional 20-50 million getting injured or disabled.
Like every other country, Nepal too has a separate, strictly regulated traffic police department for the roads to run smoothly. A lot of people are involved in it, many officers are trained for the job, and one of them is Mr. Sita Ram Hachhetu, a traffic inspector who has been in this occupation for the past 28 years. Mr. Hachhetu was also seen dancing to the beats of rhythm near the Durbarmarg police station. Being in the same field for more than two decades, he has seen a lot of changes in the road in terms of people, their behavior, situation on the road, etc.
He explains how, before, people use to report to the police if any sort of accident occurred on the road, but now things have changed. “Before, people were honest and reported on the smallest things, but now they would rather stay quiet than report of any mishaps,” he says.
Talking about the rapid growth in vehicles, he says, “It is because of banks providing finance for the vehicles; before, people had to pay the full amount, but now with installment payment and loans, there are more vehicles on the road. Also, because now people work far away from home, having a vehicle has become a necessity, leading to increased number of vehicles on the streets.”
With more people riding on the road, there is a problem of road congestion. The width of the road is not enough for the increasing number of vehicles. Mr. Hachhetu says, “During the evening, when the road is not that busy, people tend to ride over the speed limit, regardless of the checking we do.” With the average of one person dying in two days and five being injured in a day, it reflects how people do not sincerely follow the traffic rules.
Mr. Hachhetu says a very important thing that is very relevant on the road: “People think that the traffic rules are actually for the traffic police and not for them, so when they don’t see any traffic police around, they don’t seem to care about following the rules. And, that’s when accidents happen. People should have a feeling that these rules that are made and monitored are solely for them and their safety. Without that awareness, they cannot be safe on the road. The rules are there to be followed for their own well-being.”
He further talks about the license system of the country, and says, “The process of acquiring a license is very quick. The time frame in which a person gets his/her license should be longer to reduce accidents on the road. I think there should be certain time for trial period, where the individual can ride on the real busy streets, so that they know better about the traffic rules and be more aware when they get the license, as it is a matter of life and death.” People who get into accidents mainly fall in the age group of 20-30; the young adults recklessly ride on the road and end up losing their lives.
The next thing the inspector talks about is the subject of signs and speed limits on the streets; there is no proper organization of sign boards. He says, “We barely see any signs or speed limits on the street, because of which people ride however they want. There should be speed limits according to how busy that place is; it can really minimize accidents.”
We see the traffic police every day, standing in the middle of the road in excruciating heat and even in heavy rain, all day, continuously being on guard to keep the vehicles running smoothly. They have to stay on duty for 10 hours a day. In the present time, where the industries and corporate houses are using more technology, the traffic department is still at the manual level. The traffic police still operate manually, waving their hands on the street. Mr. Hachhetu says, “We traffic police have a very difficult job being on the street, monitoring the vehicles all day long. People are not aware about the traffic rules, if they don’t see any police around they tend to break the rules, and to prevent that we always have to be on guard. So, people need to have a sense of responsibility and follow the set rules even when there is no policeman around.”
Kathmandu is a busy city, and people are always hustling to reach places, and hustle even more on the streets, and that’s when riding becomes unsafe. Abroad, there are strict traffic rules; people get pulled over or arrested for very simple mistakes. Mr. Hachhetu says, “Compare to other countries, Nepal has very lenient laws. People can get away with anything by paying a small amount. That’s why they aren’t very cautious about breaking rules. For drinking and driving, we have a 1000-rupee fine; if the person is not wearing helmet or doesn’t have a license, then we keep their vehicles for one day. So, you see, the rules are really not that strict, unlike other countries, which is why people do not seem to care much.”
There are alcohol checks (ma-pa-se), license checks, and strict monitoring of the vehicles on the street. The traffic department is doing everything in their capacity to control accidents and regulate safe ride on the streets. However, even with that, there are a lot of accidents that takes place on a daily basis. Mr. Hachhetu says, “There are a lot of things that can be done to minimize the accidents. First thing is, traffic rules should be taught from the school level. The basic rules and consequences of breaking the rules should be taught to the children, so that they are aware of them. Secondly, the rules should be strict, so that people are compelled to follow them. Third is that, before getting the license, people should be made to ride on the busy streets. The government, while constructing the road, should keep in mind the density of vehicular traffic and construct accordingly, and the roads should be properly segregated for the vehicles to run smoothly.”
With 28 years in the field, Mr. Hachhetu has a lot of experience and has witnessed many unfortunate mishaps on the streets. He explains how the traffic police should be humble towards the riders, as they tend to get scared. A lot of traffic police have negative reputation for taking bribes and not being so polite to the people, which should change. He says “Now, the traffic department is becoming strict. If a policeman tries to take a bribe, you can call on 103 and report it, which will cause the police to lose his job.” He further adds, “The traffic police should be more polite towards the people and should know how to control the vehicles on the street, as hundreds of vehicles are on the line, and one hand wave of the policemen regulates those hundreds of vehicles.”
On the street, every rider hustles to ride fast, because people tend to stay home or sleep for longer time, rather than getting out of the house in time. Mr. Hachhetu says, “People should be aware of time; rather than staying home a little longer, give that time on the road, do not hustle. Accidents occur mostly when riders overtake one another, especially from the left side, and cross the lane. It is a matter of life and death, so one needs to follow the rules.”
He adds, “The most important thing every rider should keep in mind is to respect the other riders. When you are on the road, you should even respect your enemy, rather than overtaking, one can slow down and help the other rider to go forward. Everyone should have that sense of respect when riding on the road, as one little slip can cause someone to lose their life.”
Riding on the road can be a necessity or adventure, but regardless, one should be aware of the traffic rules and ride safe. There are safety gears and road rules for a reason. A rider should always be cautious, and like Mr. Hachhetu says, the traffic rules are for the people. “People think if there is no traffic police, there are no rules. Don’t be afraid of the police, but be afraid of the rules and follow them.”
Riding should be safe; there is an adrenalin rush while on the road, but one should not go overboard with that. There are a lot of people involved, a lot of traffic police standing in the unbearable pollution and bad weather for the safety of the riders, and we should be respectful towards them. So, when on the road, every rider should ride safe, having courtesy towards the traffic police and other riders, and keeping the road safe for one another.