• Mohana Prabhakar

Road to Nowhere

The heat at the moment is way below the 47-50°C predicted last week by the authorities, and temperature- wise we are actually lower than last week. It feels unbearable nevertheless because of the humidity. At the moment you could be wearing the lightest of cottons, but step out and you are transformed into someone’s soggy, post-workout gym towel.

What’s getting steadily worse though is the traffic situation. For me, this has been one of the scariest couple of weeks of driving as far back as I can remember. And this is before I got the news of the accident involving 12 cars and a truck on Muscat Expressway on Monday. The only silver lining here was that only two people were hurt, sustaining minor injuries, though looking at the pictures of the mangled cars strewn all over the road, we had feared the worst.

We recently quoted Ali al Barwani, CEO of the Oman Road Safety Association, as being optimistic about this Ramadan. “Fatalities in Ramadan of 2017 were less compared to 2016. This Ramadan, we are hopeful to have an even lesser number of accidents because of awareness among motorists.”

He is absolutely right in that the trend has been a downward one with 4,721 accidents in 2016, 3,835 in 2017 and the first quarter of 2018 reported 597 accidents as compared to 895 in the first quarter of 2017.

It still doesn’t feel like good news when you are on the road and that’s probably because that figure of 597 still means that there were almost seven accidents per day.

Awareness regarding speed has grown, undoubtedly helped along by steep fines and cameras everywhere. It is probably for the same reasons that there has been a noticeable decline in the number of people jumping red lights. But the one big problem that plagues us all and is deathly in combination with speed is not easy to police: Tailgating.

Unfortunately, tailgating is one offence that has been left open to various interpretations along with being notoriously difficult to prove - not just here, but all around the world. Educating people may be the only answer, but it needs to happen fast.

On that same Monday, I had someone stuck to my tail on a single lane side road and irrespective of how fast I moved, (which was silly of me), he hung on. On the highway, mid-morning, I gathered another admirer who actually scared me because the traffic was moving quite fast but could very well have come to a halt around the next curve.

There was no space for me to move out of his way, so I did some reverse aggression by slowing down further and increasing my distance from the car in front.

I know, like probably the other driver did, how many seconds it takes for my car to go from zero to 100km/hr.

But I don’t know how long it’d take me to go from 100 to zero and I feel it’s unlikely that someone who has scant respect for road safety would know it either. Add to this, variables like how worn the tyres are, the condition of the brakes, the weight of the car, and the slope of the road, and you really don’t need to do the math to know it’s a really bad idea to tailgate.

I don’t know whether anyone is taught how to drive safely these days. When I learnt driving, totally unaware of the existence of concepts like the 3-second rule and so on, I was lucky to have an instructor who taught me safe driving in his own way. Saeed insisted I always keep a safe distance from the car in front by a simple method. “Make sure you can see full tyres of the car ahead. If you can’t see, it means you will hit him if he brakes.” A bit dramatic, but I remember it clearly so many years later.

On highways, he told me to ‘keep two big car space from the car in front’. I learnt driving in Saeed’s battered, tiny Echo and what he wanted was two S-Class kind of distance.

Another of Saeed’s lessons that stood me in good stead over the years was never to take my eye off the car in front when lining up to join the traffic at a roundabout. ‘You look left, see no cars coming and move. But what if driver in front car is sleeping? You look left when you are the first car, not before or you go bang.” All of Saeed’s lessons did always end with predictions of a ‘bang’ unless his orders were followed.

There were no speed cameras on the roads those days and I am sure Saeed would have had something to say about the widely prevalent practice of slamming on the brakes when one comes into view. Combine this with driving like a man possessed in between cameras, a bit of tailgating and bang! Again.

Besides all the usual things, today, even with all the efforts made by the ROP, you still have children running wild in cars, popping out of windows, Grand Prix hopefuls masquerading as school bus drivers. Statistics is cold comfort when you continue to play with your future.

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