By Nishthar Idroos –
Negotiating the adrenaline raising traffic down Galle Road in his compact Maruti car is routine for Ranjith Silva. Born and bred in Colombo never has Ranjith gone through such tension and stress whilst driving. The Sales Manager working for a Pharmaceutical company based in Slave Island Colombo 02 has been driving this route for almost ten years now. Getting to work on time every morning has become some sort of a challenge for him. Precious time lost in the road. He has to drop his wife at work and two kids in school. He has to leave early. This too had not contributed an any significant way to ensure a smoother drive. Ranjith has become a victim of his own psychology. Mere thought of the arduous commute triggers anxiety and stress in the 42-year-old father of three.
Traffic is one of the most common issues in big and small cities alike in the world. Every single attempt to provide a solution has only exacerbated the situation. I may be wrong on this. The continuous influx of vehicles which incidentally have experienced exponential growth year on year regardless of many tariff and non-tariff barriers. We are spending more precious hours in our vehicles. More so in the case of developing countries. Is this a healthy trend?
The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. stated Americans added 1.2 vehicles – cars, trucks and buses – to the road for every person added to the population between 1980 and 2000. In that same period, total population rose by 24 percent, while the number of miles driven each year ballooned by 80 percent. And with Americans spending increasingly more time in their cars – on average, it’s now 1.5 hours a day – everyday driving stress can easily compound and take a real toll on overall health and happiness.
It will be quite interesting if someone undertakes a similar research for Sri Lanka and its roads with similar variables. How many hours does an average Sri Lankan motorist spend on the road? The attendant stresses and anxieties one goes through? The subject area is so extensive and expansive. A peripheral analysis will not engender justice. A complete holistic study must be made involving the realms of safe driving involving observing traffic signs and regulations, sensible and anticipatory driving, mental and physical fitness, psychological equanimity, adopted coping techniques, concentration skills. There are even issues like biology and micro-biology that are affected during driving.
An article that appeared in TIME Magazine some time ago summarized a list of impacts based on research from all over. It noted that a daily car commute can raise blood sugar, cholesterol, and depression risk. They also mention drops in fitness and sleep quality. But that isn’t even the worst of it. A research analysis on how commuting affects well-being in UK said. “From the data analysis, it appears that commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.
Sri Lankan roads are notorious for their rapacious devouring of innocent pedestrians and bystanders in the most imbrued manner. Recklessly driving that infamous monster, disproportionate and asymmetric vis a vis Sri Lankan roads – the all steel and ubiquitous made in India Ashok Leyland. Sorry, I am bit of a Leylandophobic. Every CCTV captured accident involved this behemoth. Notably driven by impetuous, inexperienced and ignorant drivers whose pants don’t hold on to their waists. Chewing beetle or smoking silly and listening to legendary singer H R Jothipala’s “Jeewithe tharunakale”
It’s said on average of 7.5 people die each day on our roads. This is as per the statistics of 2015. Its estimated 60 per cent of serious accidents are caused by single-vehicle accidents in which heavy vehicles travelling fast crash into a pedestrian or fixed object. There is something radically wrong here.
The traffic system in Colombo and the immediate suburbs are heavily tilted to the steel on wheels than to precious pedestrians who dangerously navigate our roads every single day with trepidation and jitters.
In Galle Road Kollupitiya I found it quite shocking, shameless and scandalous that only 15 seconds are given for pedestrians to cross the road. It was depressing to see a mother carrying an infant in one hand and dragging another with the other, hurriedly crossing the road in the most degrading and undignified manner. I certainly wouldn’t want to see my wife, sister or for that matter anyone involuntarily partaking in such indignities. In the meanwhile, three-wheelers, two-wheelers and imposing buses keep raising and accelerating on neutral gear. Some tooting, hinting for a speedier crossing from pedestrians. What effrontery?
It’s a trifle hilarious at pedestrian crossings in Colombo where there are no traffic lights. Pedestrians gather at both sides and numbers swell in no time. The extremely gentlemanly drivers keep passing without a single one giving way or stopping for pedestrians to cross. This happened to this writer at Maya Avenue junction recently. Since no one was doing anything this writer took a few steps and made the surrender posture with both arms up. Managed to stop the traffic. Soon all and sundry crossed, not a single soul thought it befitting to extend a small thank you.
In Ontario Canada where this writer lives, even in the remotest and unhabituated places traffic lights give a minimum of 30 seconds for pedestrians to cross. A further 10 seconds’ grace is given before it turns green on the other side. The system is absolutely pedestrian or people centric.
Another major hazard that’s easily observable on Galle road is that vehicles merging from by-roads to the Galle road do so without either slowing or stopping at the entry point. These weren’t isolated incidents but a distinct trend was observable. This writer was closely monitoring this phenomenon. The man, women, sarong Johnny and neck-tie executive behind the wheel, all of them had no concern whatsoever to pedestrians walking to the other side. They just wanted to move forward regardless. They come to the Galle road without any warning and try to merge the same way.
This writer is not ashamed to mention publicly that he passed Ontario Driving License in his third attempt. In the previous attempts, he failed not because he was a poor driver but due to a cursory lack of care vis a vis pedestrians.
Today he is a much better driver. He is so good that he just wouldn’t even dream of driving on Sri Lankan Roads.