Satish Singh Manhas
Driving is a crucial life skill in today’s fast-paced world, and the debate over whether it should be taught in schools or not is gaining prominence. This discussion becomes important particularly in the context of India, where road safety is a significant concern. Jammu and Kashmir, like the rest of the country, faces its unique set of challenges related to road safety, gauging the frequency of accidents and loss of precious lives, making it essential to explore the possibility of incorporating driving education in the secondary school curriculum. India has one of the highest rates of road accidents globally, with a staggering number of fatalities and injuries each year. Jammu and Kashmir, with its diverse terrain and sometimes unpredictable weather conditions, poses additional challenges for road users. Introducing driving education in schools could contribute to addressing these issues by instilling responsible road behaviour from an early age.
Benefits of Teaching Driving in Schools: It can inculcate an awareness and responsibility from a young age. Early exposure to driving education can help in fostering a culture of respect for traffic rules and regulations besides helping in practical skill development including basic vehicle operation, understanding traffic signs, and safe driving practices. Hands-on experience in a controlled environment can contribute to better-prepared, confident, cautious and human value based young professional drivers. With a foundation in driving education, there is a potential to reduce instances of traffic violations, leading to safer road uses and fewer accidents. Educated drivers are more likely to follow rules and contribute to a smoother traffic flow. It can bring a cultural, moral and professional shift in attitudes. Educated drivers may be more inclined to prioritize safety over speed, money, time and impatience.
Economic Impact: Although accidents as a routine are not a new occurrence in our country as on a national level, we lose around 1.5 lakh of lives, highest in the world, especially youth, teenagers etc every year to accidents. This is a big number but it is a fact and in Jammu and Kashmir especially district Doda has a good number in the national register. Alas! A well-implemented driving education program can contribute to reducing the economic burden incurred as a consequence to road accidents, such as healthcare costs and property damage, insurance payments, impact on GDP etc. By addressing all issues responsible for accidents, many precious lives can be saved. But this requires a multifarious approach from the Government, individuals, families and the society as a whole. As an immediate remedial measure, the Government can initiate preventive measures like erecting complete road barricades, parapets, steel frames etc. It can establish driving schools and without training and supervision for at least six months none should be allowed to drive especially on the dangerous and hilly stretch like Jammu- Kishtwar-Marwah-Paddar, Poonch-Jammu, Bani-Jammu highways. All hilly roads need high parapets, strong steel/iron barricades as a must but only a few exist. This needs a serious thought as well as a concrete action without any delay before more precious lives are wasted to these cruel accidents. Moreover, the ARTOs in these areas like district Doda, Ramban, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Poonch etc can be directed not to issue any driving licence if the driver has not taken a training from a Government recognised driving school and a six months driving practice under an expert government supervision can be added as another necessary condition. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is so grave that hardly had people come out of one trauma like a recent accident in Rajouri/Poonch district in which many people were injured, another tragedy struck the UT in which more than 40 people lost their lives and many more got seriously injured at Assar again in District Doda. A big shock and loss for the UT, families, friends, relatives in particular and the society as a whole in general. Initially and as a routine, many reasons were cited by individuals, agencies et al like rash driving, bad road conditions, lack of parapets, barricades, unmaintained machinery, lack of driving expertise, police laxity etc but what actually was the reason can be anybody’s guess! The fact of the matter is that hardly any day passes when we don’t see any death on this stretch of Jammu Paddar road popularly known as Jammu-Kishtwar national highway. So, now the responsibility of the Government is not only to install proper parapeting, erecting the barricades which can prevent the accidents to some extent and can minimise the losses be that of men or machinery but some new initiatives like introducing the driving education at school level seems a last solution. The accidents have a great bearing on our national GDP which many from amongst us may not be knowing but accidents in addition to taking away our precious lives causes a 3.2 percent loss to our GDP as well. Vehicles costing lakhs are reduced to rubbles in seconds, insurance companies required to compensate for the loss of men and machinery, Government has to compensate in many cases, families running from pillar to post spending lakhs in settling claims etc causing huge financial, moral and social damages. In many cases the families lose their sole bread earner and are pushed to starvation. Accidents have such an overall cruel effect. This may sound philosophical to a few but it is a fact.
So, Cooperation from the general public, media, governments, individual families and immediate measures, midterm and long term, are required so that we may see a reduction in deaths by 50 percent till 2024 as the Government foresees. But the most crucial question is, are we moving in that direction? The immediate cognizance of accidents by the President, Prime Minister, Ministers, Governors, Lieutenant Governors, national as well as local administration shows every institution is sensitive to address the issue of accidents. But, now the time has come where showing sympathy won’t do, synergy may help rescue us all. The time has come which requires besides condolences, compensation, care, caution, precaution and only timely action can help prevent such tragedies. Providing driving education at secondary level seems like the last effort.
Conclusion: Introducing driving education in schools in India, including Jammu and Kashmir, can be a proactive step toward fostering responsible road behaviour and addressing the challenges associated with road safety. While challenges exist, the potential long-term benefits for individuals, communities, and the nation make it a compelling proposition that merits serious consideration and careful planning.
(The author is working as Assistant Director in Forest Department)