NGO's efforts to root out drunk walkers on streets

The dangers of drunken driving are well-known. But walking drunk is just as dangerous. As dusk settles, those wobbly legs scruffily struggling in vain to seize control of everything around underlines and bares the vulnerability that follows.

Drive underway in Punjab to check users of non-motorised vehicles from drinking and riding.

It’s this vulnerability that is now redefining the focus not just on drunk-driving but on drunk pedestrians as well.

It's begun in border state Punjab, ill-famed for its high liquor consumption and “Patiala-peg”. So far, much of the enforcement drives and awareness
campaigns against drunk-driving have remained limited to users of motorised vehicles.

Now, an NGO is spearheading a spiralling campaign to stop pedestrians walking on the road under the influence of liquor or other intoxicants.    

Not just drunk walkers, the campaign is aiming to impress upon scores of those drinking and riding non-motorised vehicles (NMV) like cycles and handcarts, even rickshaw pullers. The drift in focus was much needed. About 1.40 lakh people in India die due to road traffic injuries, highest in the world.

A large chunk of such fatalities are also because drunk pedestrians and drunk cyclists and rickshaw pullers make themselves
vulnerable to accidents, at times because of their own fault on road. Ironically,
India has just about one per cent of the world’s vehicles and account for 10 per cent of the road deaths.

The pilot project was launched this week at Jalandhar in Punjab by Arrive Safe, an NGO working on the road safety issues on behalf of Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP)-- one of the development programme launched by the World Bank – jointly with the Punjab Police. The initiative in Punjab is under the new Bloomberg Philanthropies funded Road Safety in 10 Countries Project.

Arrive Safe head Harman Singh Sidhu maintains that a lot of lives can be saved if the tendency to walk or ride in a drunken state is shunned. It is important to focus on this lot of people since the users of these non-motorised vehicles are daily wageworkers, often the sole breadwinners of the family.

“It's disastrous for such a family if the breadwinner is killed in a road accident. If they get injured or die, the whole family plunges into a financial crisis. Invariably it's difficult to recoup from such tragedies,” Sidhu told Deccan Herald.

During any road accident, no accountability is fixed on drunken walkers or drunken users of NMV, he added.

Punjab, like any other place in India, has non-homogenous
traffic where heavy vehicles, cars, two and three-wheelers share the roads with NMVs, including hand and animal-drawn carts, cycles, rickshaws. That’s why it’s important to deal with the problem of drunken driving and drunk pedestrians in a holistic manner.

Unfortunately, there’s not been much to address the problem which also needs to be tackled through necessary legislation. Sidhu said since the NMV riders are not booked under the provisions of the law for drunken driving, the police and other law enforcement agencies never stop them for riding their mode of transport in inebriated condition. He said:

“Fatal accidents on roads will continue to happen unless drunken users of NMVs are also targeted and fined. They need to be included in the ambit of safe riding. Commuting habits in India have to change. Driving on roads have to be a responsible affair,” he said.
Essential amendments in law to incre­ase its scope and reach, something which can act as a deterrent, is needed to save lives, without which it’s foolhardy to
expect fast and tangible results. Sidhu is a recipient of the prestigious Prince Mich­ael International Road Safety Award and a former anchor of Collision Course, a UNO-BBC documentary shot in India and Brazil. Jalandhar Police Commissioner Gaurav Yadav said they are looking forward to make the roads safer with such initiatives.

Only recently, the Supreme Court had termed drunken driving a “menace” for society observing that those driving vehicles under the influence of alcohol should not get away with minor punishment and fine. The apex court said:  “Pedestrians are not safe in cities with late night parties followed by drunken driving becoming a way of life among the urban elite.” 

Come November 20, the date designated as a World Day of Remembrance, and Sidhu said his Arrive Safe will be in action to create awareness against the ills of drunken driving and drunk walkers. The day will spare time to remember those who have been killed or injured in road accidents. Globally, each day approximately 3,500 people die on roads.

Sidhu himself is a road accident victim. His world came crashing down in 1996 in a car accident. Sidhu has been confined to a wheelchair since then after he suffered a spinal injury and got paralysed. But his wheelchair hasn’t in anyway killed his true spirit. He’s today helping others reach home safely.

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