Swapping the boots for safer roads

Of the time I have spent traversing our road networks, a major fraction has been on two wheels. To me, cars have been little more than a tool to serve a function, motorcycles have been more. More than a decade and almost 80K kms later, there is still a charm that pulls me back to motorcycles.

Over these years, I have upgraded my safety gear, adopted a sane riding style improving from what can only be described as ‘reckless’ from when I was a beginner, moved to faster but safer – better engineered motorcycles and made very well calculated choices to be safer on the road. Yet, with every passing day, I feel more scared than the last to be on a motorcycle. As it would be the case with most motorcyclists reading this, often the people around me who don’t ride suggest to limit riding or ask if I am scared by the chaos on our roads when on a motorcycle, which I often respond to with a laugh or a shrug. But I do have that fear, the fear that has multiplied every time I have had a close escape, or a friend took a fall, or worse.

Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are the most vulnerable road users, and that is no surprise. In 2017, of the 150K accident related deaths on Indian roads, close to 49,000 were motorcyclists, 20,500 pedestrians and 3,500 cyclists. The motorcyclists alone account for a third of the deaths, and combined, the three account for half of the total.

Over the years, cars have evolved from lightweight metal boxes to vaults on wheels and these improvements have trickled all the way down to even the basic hatchbacks. And while there have been improvements with motorcycles with new safety features being available on mass products now, the motorcyclists are still as exposed to the elements and all the external factors as they were over a decade ago. Same applies for the cyclists and the pedestrians as well. A fall can never be pretty.

Of course there are safety measures to take. It isn’t uncommon to find motorcyclists wrapped in ridiculously heavy riding gear from head to toe, which isn’t exactly easy in the mostly hot weather of India, often complemented by fluorescent tapes, reflectors and the likes used liberally to aid visibility. And a lot of them would have their blood groups and emergency contacts pasted on helmets and gear, only to have a bit more hope for when things go south.

The problems are caused by countless factors, some originating from our general road usage behaviour, some from issues like phone usage behind the wheel, some from panic responses triggered by broken or bad roads and some from lack of education about proper safety gear. But the fact remains that the people on two wheels or on foot are the most at risk.

But how can we address this? To deal with this, we need to target the factors just mentioned. As the people committed towards #DriveForSaferRoads, we can do our bit by educating fellow motorcyclists to choose quality helmets, if not full riding gear, and ensuring safe riding practices with better training. We also need to discourage phone usage while moving, whether for pedestrians, motorcyclists or car drivers. In addition to that, we are hoping to reduce the accidents caused by panic response triggered by speed breakers and potholes with the Intents Go (beta).

But there is lot more than we can do, and inspire others around us to do, in addition to this. We can learn to be more empathetic towards each other while on the road. Maybe we will lose a few seconds here or there, but not only will we save more lives but maybe reach our destinations happier and calmer. As a motorcyclist, understand that the vision of the car drivers around you is not as unrestricted as yours or that they can’t maneuver as quickly as you can. As car drivers, understand that what might be a little scrape on the bumper for you could be the end of the road for a cyclist or motorcyclist.

And for that, maybe try getting in someone else’s boots, not just metaphorically, but literally. Maybe one of these days, swap your two wheels for four and you’ll realise the “idiot who sneaked up behind” actually couldn’t see you because you were in their blind spot, or that they “wouldn’t speed up quickly” because the potential for causing any damage is far more with a car. I would suggest the same for car drivers too. Maybe the pothole you casually hover over was actually pretty big for the motorcyclist, or maybe they “always want to jump ahead” because of all the dirt and gravel that flies right behind the car. This little step would allow you to predict, and thus react to other road users better. You will also appreciate the challenges and limitations of other road users a little better, and hopefully, that will allow us to accommodate each other better, making it safer for all.

If you haven’t yet, join the #DriveForSaferRoads below. And don’t forget to try Intents Go to be safe from potholes and speed bumps on the road.

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