It is heart-breaking to read about so many deaths on our roads. Over eighty deaths since the beginning of the year. Grieving families are looking for comfort, accident victims are seeking explanation and justice. To put it simply some are “licensed to kill”, and our roads are death-traps.
I drive everyday. Let me share some of my observations to put all this in context. Last Friday I was driving on Rue Labourdonnais in Port-Louis, heading towards the motorway. The traffic was heavy and moving slowly. Out of nowhere a motorcycle cut in front of me on the left and made an immediate right turn into an alley. I was stunned. In a flash of a second it could have been disastrous. I took a few minutes to compose myself. Yesterday I was heading south on the motorway. A BMW started to tail me from Pailles. The left lane was moving slowly with several trucks and buses. I was on the right lane driving according to the speed limit. The BMW was flashing me to get out of his way. I kept on driving since I had no intention of over speeding. I could not change lane either, traffic was heavy. I could see the light at the back flashing and a driver fuming.  I could not understand why he was fuming. The road is for driving according to traffic regulations. It is not a racing track.
Daily I see buses, cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, all driving according to their own rules. Then we have the pedestrians, dogs and the occasional urban goat. I realize we have to share the road with all these users. A point about the pedestrians. There are sidewalks here and there, most of them with holes and broken edges, at times risky to even stand on. In many places, these sidewalks are also parking spots. I am a pedestrian and I walk a lot. At times I wonder whether I should use the sidewalk or risk it on road, where drivers intimidate pedestrians. Then we have the humps and the crossing areas. I have had several near misses when crossing the road. Last week in Curepipe I was crossing the road like a responsible citizen. I was half way on the crossing, two cars rushed in front of me. I was two feet away from them. Another near miss.
I have been reading a lot about the rules and attempts to curb the tragedy on roads. I hear about speed cameras, demerit points, traffic checks, spot controls. These and other deterrents come and go depending who is the master of the day. A simple truth is that we cannot experiment with people’s lives. We need concrete measures, not a series of random actions which somehow lead to nothing. The reality speaks for itself. We need to stop the death toll on the road. Here is my message and recommendations to those who are willing to listen. Next time I am on the road I want to feel safe and not be bullied by selfless drivers and rules that signify nothing.
A sense of individual responsibility
I have spent over forty years living and working in England and Canada. I have travelled to over fifty-five countries and drove in many parts of the world. So I have some points of reference. Certain areas could be legislated but others require a sense of individual responsibility, good judgement and a sense of citizenship. I don’t think we need to pass a law to force people to use sidewalks or for a bus driver to give right to pedestrians. We cannot legislate on day to day common behaviour. We are mature enough to use our good judgement. We know it is wrong to go through a red light, or for a motorcycle to cut in front of a car. But we do it. My first point is a sense of citizenship. A father driving his daughter to school and is fuming on the road because a vehicle in front is doing speed limit. What lesson is he teaching his daughter who will be a driver someday? I think you got my point about good citizenship.
In countries like Canada pedestrians have the right of way, and drivers have to be vigilant. I would like to make two points here. During last two elections (general and municipal) many promises were made to the people. I suggest to the authorities that all sidewalks be made safe, well lit and accessible. Vehicles should not be allowed to park on sidewalks. These are spaces designated to the walking public. So let us have our own space which we deserve and need. Politicians talked about making our cities safe. Please get on with it. The second point is to enforce the law and those violating traffic rules. For example, the moment a pedestrian puts his/her foot on the crossing all vehicles on each side should come to a complete halt until the person has cleared the crossing.
Road Rage
What about road rage? There is a lot of that around. Road rage is almost like a disease and it kills. Drivers simply do not get the point. Either you will get killed or you will kill somebody else. Here I would suggest that we become a bit more responsible and control our behaviour. Then we have drivers using cell phone or driving under the influence of alcohol. The authorities must enforce the law and offenders must be punished severely. Driving licenses should be confiscated from the more serious offenders. Here we need legislation and efficient policing.
Now let me come to another area that needs consideration. It’s called driver education. A review of driving schools must be done immediately and all driving instructors must follow a national training program. I suggest all new drivers attend a driver education course for six weeks which deals with safety, driving skills, first aid and defensive driving. After passing this course a person can enrol for driving lessons. Driving license must be issued following a two-step examination. A provisional license can be issued to all new drivers after passing the first step. The probation period is 12 months before the second examination. A provisional driver can drive only certain types of vehicle and cannot exceed a speed of 50 kms an hour. A full license is issued after passing both steps. Motorcycles with L plates should face restrictions.  Driver remedial programs must be enforced on dangerous drivers and serious driving offenders. Drivers under the age of 21 should have special endorsements.
A demerit point system must be enforced and heavy fines inflicted for over speeding and for substance abuse offences. Humps in rural areas must be clearly marked and speed restrictions enforced in residential areas, places of worship and schools. Speed cameras is a deterrent and speed zones must be policed more effectively. Public vehicles such as buses and trucks must undergo special training, and every five years drivers of such vehicles must take a refresher test, both theory and practical. Motorcyclists require attention. Bike riders must wear a proper vest and helmet issued by the authorities for extra visibility.
Other initiatives include more one-way streets in the urban areas. Major intersections must have traffic lights that work 24/7. Traffic circles (roundabouts) are outdated and unsafe. They should be replaced with traffic lights and stop signs. Many homes and businesses are built a few feet from roads. Building permits must be reviewed and constructions inspected making sure they respect boundaries. Walls are built on roads, hiding visibility. Drivers have to guess where the road ends. Trees are planted without proper landscaping. There is no inspection and buildings are mushrooming everywhere. Vehicles are parked almost everywhere with no enforcement. Think safety. Exercise your civic responsibility and show good citizenship. If you own a dog, don’t let it run loose in the streets. Consider your responsibility as an animal owner. Stray dogs are a danger. CEB electric poles are another danger. They are everywhere, there is no sense of planning or safety considerations. Currently, there is no standard. Don’t tell me we want to be like Singapore or Dubai in ten years’ time. Make our roads safe first and improve our basic infrastructures before talking about fancy models.
Having said all this, what really works at the end of the day is self-discipline and responsibility. With rights we have to exercise responsibility. Why don’t we exercise courtesy and share the road with everyone who is supposed to use it. No one wants to give way and everyone is rushing to go somewhere. Just think of the consequences: arriving two minutes earlier at your destination could be tragic. Let us teach our children at home about road safety. There is no reason why we cannot make our roads safer and implement a more efficient system for managing our roads. Traffic policing must be better organized to reduce accidents on the road. There are “red” spots that require better policing and vigilance.
Twenty years ago, I coined the economic miracle in the Indian Ocean. Today, our roads are bloody. I don’t see too many signs of the miracle. Sadly, I see licensed to kill, less glamorous perhaps, but requires even more attention.