The sea-change in inter-district commuting within the Valley, from the wheezing and groaning 52-seaters of the 70s to the cramped hen-coop like 407s, and now the fast, smooth, cushiony taxi cabs, has come with a heavy price in human lives lost in road accidents. Almost every other report of a deadly traffic mishap involves speeding cabs, be it on inter-district routes in the Valley or on the Srinagar-Jammu highway where drivers hurtling their vehicles above speed limits end up plunging them down gorges and ravines. Over-confident youngsters at the wheels of taxis are an everyday experience, often drawing admiring comments from passengers keen on speed, control and precision, but confirmation that many such drivers may never have gone through formal training in operating passenger vehicles, and worse still, evaded what ought to be a stringent process of qualifying for commercial drivers’ licences can only add to public disquiet and apprehensions.
Not that serious short-comings and irregularities in traffic management and regulation are news, but admissions from transport operators as well as authorities that a one hundred per cent check on unlicensed drivers is not possible despite their best efforts is just not good enough. Neither of the two would be able to offer an approximate guesstimate of cabs under unauthorised drivers, nor dispel suspicions about the authenticity of the process through which drivers who possess licences have obtained them. In the city, it is the rare, and unimaginative, aspiring private motorist who would talk of taking a ‘driving test.’ Knowing someone in the right circles usually does the trick.
The nightmare on city roads, particularly during rush hours, is evidence of the primal energy mass motorizing has unleashed in society, perhaps to provide outlets and safety-valves for pent up passions, as on display over crossings, during overtaking, and unmistakable aggression in wriggling out of traffic jams. A surreptitious switch-over in modes of commuting, necessary because of a glaring mismatch between infrastructure and the burden of individual and collective self-expectations it is expected to carry, ought to have some basic supervision to prevent it from turning into another tragedy defined and described by statistics.