“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

The title of the Editorial in the Kashmir Images says it all

Highways To Hell

Kashmir’s roads are becoming highways to hell. The staggeringly high traffic fatality rate attests to this in a pronounced manner. There is hardly any day when somebody doesn’t die on our streets. Just a day before yesterday three people lost their lives and four were injured in different road mishaps across Kashmir.

Although daily traffic deaths are alarming, the annual toll is scarier. In 2008 alone, for instance, 950 people were killed in traffic accidents across the state. The statistics for the preceding years too mirror a high accident rate. In the Valley where members of the expanding middle class are taking to the roads in record numbers, crash rates are growing out of control. There are a host of other factors that heighten the peril. With car and motorcycle sales rising, the government is unable to build wider and safer roads.

In a place like Kashmir where the existing road systems are badly maintained and lack basic infrastructure such as stop signs and traffic signals the rise in road accidents is becoming difficult to bring down.

With existing roads already hopelessly congested road fatalities are likely to go up in the years ahead. Besides, in Kashmir the causes of accidents are varied: Traffic in the Valley especially in the capital city, Srinagar, is frequently a tumultuous and deadly mix of pedestrian, affordable motorcycles, cars, bicycles and passenger vehicles- all vying for places in line along the same overburdened stretches of blacktop.

To this add lax law enforcement, a flood of inexperienced drivers, and a marked indifference to safety on the part of many motorists and it’s little wonder that our roads sometimes resemble the traffic chaos of the metropolitan cities. The offensive behaviour now universal among Kashmir’s aggressive me-first motorists too is likely to take the accident rate up. Motorcycles are wildly popular in Kashmir because almost anyone can afford one. But the tendency among Valley’s youth to ape their reel favourites especially the Dhoom flick’s motorist gang is likely to inflict a toll.

Motorists are usually seen disobeying the rules and often avoid taking safety precautions. Though helmets are mandatory, people seldom use them. Too often they pay an appalling price to feel and look cool.

Apart from the motorists, the reckless driving by the Sumo and Tipper drivers too is significantly responsible for the rising accident deaths in the Valley. Besides, there appears to be another universal truth underlying Kashmir’s soaring traffic death rates: fatalities increase with rising incomes. This means Kashmir’s statistics are bound to get uglier. Kashmir has exploding middle classes whose members are reaching for the car keys for the very first time- yet it will be years before the Valley is able to fully afford the costs of safer and wider roads.

Traffic accidents can be ascribed to myriad other factors. With innumerable new cars and fledgling drivers clogging the transportation system of Kashmir’s major towns and the capital city strict enforcement of traffic laws is crucial. Unfortunately enforcement is the weakest link in the road safety chain. Corruption among the traffic section of police is no secret. The traffic cops usually help people get off the hook for traffic violations for petty monetary gains. Corruption has now become part of our culture. Given the rising road accident rate strict enforcement of laws is a must. We have plenty of laws. It is the enforcement that is lacking. If measures are not taken to improve road safety through strict enforcement of traffic rules then in the coming years it seems inevitable that people will continue to die in road accidents on Kashmir’s mean streets.