Not pellets but high and fancy beams of vehicles in Kashmir blinds and kills

Srinagar: When I recently met Zuhaib, a photojournalist who was hit by pellets during last year’s unrest, I was amazed to learn that he hadn’t gone out of his home for the past one year or so. I asked him, don’t you get bored and do you ever go out?  He said, “In the evenings, I go out with my friends; they have to shut the street lights in my vicinity so that I can go by at ease. But it’s not the street lights which bother me, it’s the high beam and flashing lights that people use at night which forces me to stay indoors.” What he said afterwards was indeed heart wrenching.

“As a photojournalist, I used to play with light; now light plays with me,” he said.

One of the major problems faced by almost every driver at night is the flashing lights from the headlights of cars coming from the other direction. The problem becomes more acute in Kashmir as the roads are narrow and “Use dipper at night” is just a useless cliché written on the back of trucks. Therefore driving at night is a daunting task in the valley.

To make matters worse, many young boys now-a-day’s use extra flashy, blinking and irregular lights and sport fog lamps or other auxiliary lights in the front while there are some who drive with a broken headlight, a crime for which you are charged 8,000 Indian rupees in a country like Dubai.

Sometimes, one would wonder if anything at all can be done to teach offenders a lesson but then one feels helpless. A few years back, China came up with a unique idea, and it proved pretty effective. Chinese drivers who blinded others with high-beam headlights were given an unorthodox punishment. The offenders were made to stare into the glare of the headlights for a full minute and a compulsory fine equivalent of Rs 3000 was also handed out in addition to the punishment. Many social media users approved of such punishment. Soon after it was reported that the offence rate declined in China dramatically.

Experts and doctors reveal that not only do people having eye problems suffer but it also effects people with normal vision as bright light coming from the opposite direction falls directly on our eyes and causes one to lose depth perception and peripheral vision and pupils also dilate leading to blurriness. This temporary blindness often leads to accidents.

“Drivers middle-aged and older are more sensitive to glare than younger drivers because their eyes take longer to adjust to changing light levels,” said Imityaz Qureshi, an ophthalmologist.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), the risk of a fatal accident is three times greater at night and as per data, almost 50 percent accidents are caused during the night time in J&K.

Post-2011, there have been almost 1000 deaths in Kashmir per year due to accidents, making it one the most accident-prone areas in India.

Ghulam Mohammad, who has been working in Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences since 1983, said that accident-associated cases increase at night as people from other hospitals are also referred to his hospital.

As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) survey conducted in 2013, J&K topped the list of “high accidental death-prone areas”, which found that an accident in J&K state has a 64 percent chance of causing death as opposed to 36.4 percent for all of India.

For getting a driving licence, one has to pass the learner’s licence test first in which basic questions such as traffic signs and traffic rules are asked, and only then one can apply for a permanent licence. But it seems people either knowingly break the law or there is some flaw in the system. 

When contacted, transport commissioner Saughat Biswas said, “ It is unfortunate that people are breaking law despite having a valid licence. We are working to make the process of granting the licences a more stringent one.”

According to the data from Regional Transport Officer (RTO), number of vehicles that were registered in Kashmir division from 1971-2006 stood at 2,06,998 while in the last 10 years the number has risen to 3,64,128 which indicates a whopping 633 percent rise, from 2007 to August 2017. The numbers, as per trend, are going up each day which indicates the traffic department needs to remain vigilant and have a tough job ahead.

“The state government is preparing a State Road Safety Policy which will set guidelines for the enforcement of traffic rules and creation of awareness among people,” he added.

Talking about awareness, he said in the last four years the number of general awareness programmes conducted stood at 3330 in which more than 66 percent of programmes were conducted in Baramulla district only while the programmes conducted in schools and college stood at 1020.

Children right from school should be taught about road safely and the traffic department should organise more awareness programmes in schools and colleges. They can always increase the fine for breaking the law. In most countries, like USA, people who drive with improper use of headlight are fined between rupees 3000-10000.

According to ARTO, Mubashir, on an average 60 out of 100 people qualify for the driver’s test. How do the rest of them get licence is a mystery. Moreover, there are increasing numbers of driving schools in the valley.

Before 2000, there were just a few registered driving schools in Kashmir but post-2000, the numbers have gone up. It is important to check whether these driving institutes comply with the rules and regulations as per Motor Vehicles Department J&K.

May be its high time authorities in Kashmir impose China’s method of punishment for law-breaking drivers.