Sometimes I really wonder what is the greater force behind decisions I make. Do I really love driving or am I plain foolish? I drive 40km daily to office in one of the busiest routes of India, here in Mumbai. It takes me roughly two hours. Three, if I get up on the wrong side of the bed. If I were to even take into consideration the lousy speed limit of 30kph insisted upon by our traffic authorities it should still take me just over an hour. Now consider that there are around a lakh vehicles traveling in the same direction as me everyday. That’s 1 lakh man hours lost to traffic snarls. Sounds insane? Well, but that’s just half of our problems.
I have a wonderful test car that has an onboard computer to tell me how much time I have spent behind the wheel, the average speeds done and of course, the amount of precious fuel consumed. Now, manufacturers go to lengths to make cars and bikes more efficient. Modern cars consume much less fuel and spew out much, much lower emissions than their predecessors. It’s a continuous process where every car and bike maker ends up spending billions to make cars and bikes more efficient. But, how does it really matter in the real world with our so-called modern Indian cities? When we test vehicles, apart from the usual highway and city fuel efficiency figures we also take time to get the best figure that a vehicle can return when driven normally. Easily, the figure that my onboard computer shows is twice of what it should be. Imagine the amount of money saved just if fuel-efficient cars and bikes could run parallel to a more efficient road network? Not to forget lakhs of man hours now lost in traffic jams.
Development is essential. But it seems our government isn’t approaching it in a fair manner. They were very strict and clear about stagewise implementation of emission norms for automobiles over the years, but there is never a deadline when it comes to completing a road, flyover or other such infrastructure. While corporates, no saints themselves, are expected to toe the line when it comes to rules and regulations, many government infrastructure project run haphazardly. Look around a completed road and you will easily find places where lane markings go missing suddenly, or only certain stretches get cat eyes or a proper shoulder to stop the car. It’s really a pointless exercise building a flyover when there is no way to disperse traffic once it ends.
Now, it isn’t just about the government’s apathy but also the way we Indians tend to drive. If we could just stick to our lanes whenever traffic slows down or just learn to queue up, half of our city traffic problems would be solved – proper roads or not. It is our own impatience to beat the car in front every time the traffic slows down that escalates the problem in a jam.
But most Indian motorists don’t know better. Or even if they know, they tend to ignore basic driving etiquette because nine out of 10 motorists around won’t follow driving etiquette either, making the one who follows to be the odd one out. So, should that one person stop driving sanely? Of course not, because that is the only way forward if we need to make our roads a means to reach our destination and not turn it into a battlefield.
And all development in automotive technology will have full-blown impact when it is a collective effort from the automobile makers, from the people who buy them and from the authorities. So, while the manufacturers have embarked on making more efficient cars, there is an urgent need to do our bit and get our own driving aspects in order. Meanwhile, my only suggestion to the government is to focus on keeping the current infrastructure in order – maybe really complete a stretch of road before floating another tender for a new one.