In these days of increasing carbon emission, depleting ozone layer, melting ice caps, rising seal levels and changing climates, the cyclists are given a free wheel and have become a danger to motorists.
BICYCLE HAS always been a very good mode of transport for the movement of men and material for ages and it continues to be so in these times of supersonic flights and sophisticated cars. This common man’s mode of transport has gone through many changes over the years, but it seems to have failed to keep pace with the changing needs of modern thoroughfares and highways.
In Kerala, it used to be an offence to ride a bicycle without the headlight on, at night. It was serious offence to travel pillion on a bicycle and very serious offence to ride a bicycle on the wrong side of the road. And this author, many a times, has had the tires of his bicycle deflated by angry police officers for having committed one of the above offences. The story has changed now.
Unfortunately, this once-ineffectual mode of transport is increasingly becoming a threat to many motorists. It is not the fault of the poor two-wheeler; rather it is the way people take the power of this vehicle for granted. For them, it is a simple mode of travel, and it is so simple that it does not need any license; no need to particularly keep left or right of the road while on the move and anyone can ride it now without caring whether its headlight switched on or off at night. And even if you make it carry three people and go for a ride on a road with a beeline of high speed cars, two wheelers, buses, trucks and tippers, nobody raises a question on your safety, not to speak of the safety of innumerable other road users.
In these days of increasing carbon emission, depleting ozone layer, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and changing climate, the cyclists are given a free wheel, and they are looked at with respect and regard, as they do not contribute to the pollution of our environment. A good bicycle, if maintained properly, will last for ages. And riding a bicycle adds to one’s health, benefits the environment and is the cheapest mode of transport, second only to walking or running.
This is the upside of the bicycle story. But statistics on road accidents show that out of a hundred accidents that happen in the suburban and semi-urban areas, careless and casual cyclists, who go hither and thither on their way to their destinations, cause 20 per cent of those accidents. They simply take twists and turns - sometimes ‘U’ turns and sometimes even ‘W’ turns - so unexpectedly that the unsuspecting motorist, say a car driver, out of his instinct, not to hurt anyone, is forced to negotiate his vehicle out of panic, ending up in accidents, killing and injuring many, including himself.
Newspapers report, ‘the accident occurred when the driver of the car tried to save a cyclist’. But the accident might have ended up killing four or five people. But no one asks a question as to find out how that particular cyclist had behaved on the road.
When it comes to accident, it is always the driver of the bigger vehicle who bears the brunt. The cyclist and even motorcyclists, for that matter, go scot-free. It is interesting to note that motorcyclists are also doing what these poor bicyclists do on the road, by way of U turns and swerving in unexpected ways and most of the heavy vehicles that get involved in accidents are forced to shoulder the responsibility.
Under normal circumstances, not many bother to investigate and find out what a particular motorcyclist or cyclist did to make the driver of the heavy vehicle turn left or right, leading to an accident.
When we focus on these bicycles, the problem takes greater magnitude. Bicycles are so silent in their movement that they come and get people killed as silently as death itself, so silently that the person who gets killed does not even get a whiff that this ineffectual vehicle could cost him his very life.
Another shocking and suicidal behaviour shown by both cyclists and motorcyclists is this: keeping to the right on highways. They feel that it is all right to keep to the right on highways as highways are wide and it is difficult for them to cross the highway so as to get to the left side. In the event of an eventuality, will a speeding car or truck driver save his life by hitting the person on the wrong side or save the person on the wrong side and get himself killed? Most of the time, the latter is the option, and the motorist, out of panic, tries to save the cyclist or motorcyclist, and meets with fatal serial collisions. This has happened many times and this will continue to happen again on our roads. Therefore, it is high time we did something to make cyclists and other two wheel riders more responsible and law-abiding on the roads.
How can we make our coming generation understand the basics of traffic rules? I think it is worthwhile to include an exclusive lesson in the curriculum of school children, so as to make them understand the importance of following traffic rules. It doesn’t matter whether a mode of transport is motorised or manual, it has to follow the very rules and regulations all vehicles on the road are expected to follow. A large number of school children these days depend on various types of bicycles to get to their schools. It is a matter of great concern that they happen to go through their school life without knowing the fundamentals of road safety.
Parents should ensure that their kids are law abiding when on the road and careful while on the move. Cyclists have the right to use the road, but not at the cost of someone’s life and property. They should be responsible while travelling on the road.
Traffic officials may take initiatives to make cycling more responsible and road-friendly. Otherwise, more and more people would get killed or injured. Cyclists should be asked to fix reflectors on their bicycles, keep their headlights on when they travel at night, always keep to the left when on the move, use bells to alert the pedestrians and, above all, make it essential that the cyclist is mature enough to ride on the road.
More kids use vehicles these days than ever before, and when they are on bicycles, life on the road is unsafe. Let them cycle their ways to good health, not to unfortunate accidents. All these problems notwithstanding, bicycle is the most eco-friendly and healthy mode of transport. Let us make sure that it is safe for all people concerned.
I believe riding pillion, keeping to wrong side and riding without headlights at night should be made punishable offences. A few incidents of flattened tires and public warnings would make a big difference in the road safety awareness of our people.