All good soldiers, it is said, go to heaven. Similarly, cynics may say, all bad drivers, too, end up there. For, they keep their passengers and other road users ever reminded of God! Put any atheist or agnostic in a boneshaker with a manic at the wheel?aka a private bus?and the rollercoaster ride that translocates his heart to his mouth will certainly have him say a prayer or two. He will alight?if lucky to survive the journey?from that contraption a true believer!
Some years ago, a South African cricketer who happened to take a bus ride from Colombo to Galle made some interesting observations about Sri Lankan driving. He said he had lost count of the number of near misses along the way and considered it a miracle that he had made it to Galle and back in one piece. Such are the `glorious uncertainties of travelling` on Sri Lankan roads.
The asphalt cowboys in the garb of bus drivers are not alone in unleashing terror on highways. They are in the exalted company of the death-dealing container truck drivers who turn roads into hell on earth with their monstrous machines. The police may play hide and seek with motorists in the city and book them for lesser offences like parking near a bakery or a pharmacy. But, they turn a blind eye to highway terrorism.
With monsters on the loose on public roads, yesterday`s tragedy at Induruwa came as no surprise. Over twenty five people were killed and dozens of others injured, when a container carrier crashed into a CTB bus, which caught fire. Most of the victims were trapped in the ill-fated bus and burnt to death. In the recent past, there have been several such fatal accidents due to gross negligence of drivers. But, whenever they occur, we see the typical Sri Lankan `soda bottle` reaction from all quarters: Public outrage fizzles out in no time and water closes in on the tragic events. The police pretend that nothing has happened. Politicians dish out compensation and try to gain some mileage. And monsters continue to unleash hell on roads. It is not surprising that the people have come to take the law into their hands in dealing with errant drivers involved in fatal accidents.
Accidents, no doubt, are inevitable so long as vehicles ply on roads. Even in the countries where traffic laws are strictly enforced, they do happen. But, the fact that most accidents in this country happen due to sheer negligence should jolt the police and the lawmakers into action. The real cause of yesterday`s mishap has yet to be established. We leave that to the police and the judiciary. But, according to eyewitnesses, disaster could have been averted but for the carelessness of the driver of the container carrier.
The process of creating highway killers begins at the RMV itself. One can pay a lump sum to any wayside driving school and rest assured that one gets the license with or without a trial. After securing that precious document, homicidal maniacs are free to wreak havoc on roads. Hardly any heavy vehicle driver wears glasses. Does it mean their vision is perfect? No! They just don`t care whether they can see properly or not, for they only want to be seen. The bigger the vehicles they drive, the higher, they seem to think, they rise above the law! In the parlance of bus crews, a passenger or a pedestrian is just only a kaella (a piece). Such terms demonstrate the callous disregard they have for human life. Some bus drivers are hooked on narcotics or addicted to liquor. Psychopaths are not rare among them. No woman is safe in a private bus after nightfall.
Overturned articulated trucks on busy streets together with their big boxes are a common sight. Many of them are not roadworthy and their drivers are misfits sans any respect for road rules or human life. They drive as if they were mad?perhaps they really are!?and turn wherever they want without signals and anyone who drives close to them is tempting his or her providence! They have become a law unto themselves. But, who cares?
The time has come for slaying the monster that we ourselves have created over the years. Besides the grandiose projects such as expressways?which will certainly ease the transport problem to a great extent?serious thought must be given to making the existing roads safe for the public. It is high time the heavy vehicle drivers?and others, too, if possible?were subjected to thorough checks regularly to see if they are physically and mentally fit to drive. Their vehicles, too, need to be examined regularly to ensure their fitness. A former director of the CTB Medical Centre once said, in an interview with this newspaper, that examinations conducted by his institution had revealed some drivers were suffering from epilepsy and many others had impaired vision. The situation should be far worse given the rate at which heavy vehicle drivers are being churned out through corrupt means.
The tragic loss of innocent lives in yesterday`s mishap has moved us to tears. But, there is much more to be done than shedding tears, if highway terror is to be stamped out. While the monsters on the prowl on highways are dealt with appropriately, their creation must be blocked at the very source. And, most of all, the police must be shaken awake!