Paralysed man turns crusader for safety

Paralysed man turns crusader for safety

It was one ill-fated day in 1996 which changed everything for Chandigarh resident Harman Singh Sidhu. He was to immigrate to Canada that year and decided to live up to his dream of exploring the nature in the hills before he flew to realise his dollar dreams. Little did he know what destiny was about to play with his life. The car he was in fell off the road into a deep gorge in the hills on the road to Mussourie. Sidhu’s world came crashing down. 

Harman Singh Sidhu on his wheel chair Since then, Sidhu has been confined to a wheelchair. He suffe­red a spinal injury and is paralysed. He admits it was his bit of negligence, too, that added to his misery. But his wheelchair hasn’t in anyway killed his true spirit. Sidhu is today helping others reach home safely. He’s helping people on roads. Sidhu is relentlessly on a mission to inspire all those reckless drivers who perhaps couldn’t care less about a loved one anxiously waiting back home.

A man who at one point even lost the desire to live has turned into a crusader for road safety. Sidhu’s efforts have brought him on board the group on road safety partnership, a World Health Organisation (WHO) initiative on road safety in India. He’s now part of a pilot project being undertaken in Hyderabad and Jalandhar in Punjab on road safety, essentially on drunken driving and over speeding. The fact that a few people have to lift him in his wheelchair and place him in a car every time he has to travel hasn’t one bit stumbled his spirit. The WHO project, he says, also entails capacity building.

Sidhu has launched a campaign to make death due to negligent driving a non-bailable offence. He is also campaigning to push hard for a case to enlarge the preview of traffic offences to include small matters of safety like a faulty back and side view mirrors in the ambit of penalty. 

Talking to Deccan Herald, Sidhu said: “We had conducted a survey on the Ambala-New Delhi highway which brought out a startling fact that 65 per cent of cars had faulty side view mirrors. We have pictures to support our claim. If these constitute traffic offences, safety on roads will increase. A minimum tread on a vehicles tyre, too ,should be mandatory to avoid accidents or else be liable for a traffic ticket.”

Sidhu is the man behind the Chandigarh traffic police website which won the prestigious Prince Michael Road Safety Award. Former Chandigarh Superintendent of Police Amitabh Singh Dhillon was the one who extended full support to Sidhu in his desire and drive to make road more safe.

As a stakeholder in initiatives on road safety and education in Punjab and Haryana, he’s been instrumental in generating a huge data base on road safety that is helping state police to bring down the rate of accidents and fatalities. 

Next on his radar is to assist Punjab on making use of a comprehensive data on “black spots” on roads which are more prone to accidents. He said 65 per cent of accidents on roads are due to engineering failure, which needs to be addressed.

So how did it all start for Sidhu who at one point still feels his 16 years of unending ordeal since that day has aged him. Every single day is a battle against disability, odds and pain for him. Sidhu says his brother bought him a computer and he took no time turning into a web designer. “I made my first website for my doctor,” he said. He has an NGO, ArriveSAFE, which adds synergies to his efforts in road safety and education.The synergies of efforts towards road safety that Harman has managed to generate are now focused on “equitable space for humans on roads and not vehicles.”

 He said it’s important to recognise that more people who are dying are the vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, users of non-motorised vehicles and two-wheeler riders. 

These are the people who are outside the cars and other four-wheelers. There’s a need to have forgiving roads and forgiving cars considering people make mistakes. “We are working towards an extremely critical issue of sensitising people, to alter the mindset so that road safety is imbedded deep within our conscious,” he said.

His initiatives have even left corporate and car manufacturers mull about issues beyond profitability. Only lip service is being done in the name of corporate social responsibility, Harman feels. Sponsoring an event or two on the road safety week is not enough and a sustained effort is required to ensure tangible results. Road safety, he says, is missing from the agenda of most carmakers. The Arrive SAFE initiative started its operations from Chandigarh in 2003 and has emerged out of Harman Singh Sidhu’s harrowing personal experience of a road crash. Since then, the ArriveSAFE has grown from a  one-man initiative to an organisation supported by many like minded persons having concern for road safety.

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