Tuesday June 25, 2024

Subtleties of road travel

By Dr Syed Kaleem Imam
November 19, 2021

Boards with the warning ‘kill a worker – get 15 years jail and $10,000 fine’ are often seen on the highways in the US. It keeps drivers on their toes as any misadventure could ruin them forever. Officials issue driving licences after extensive scrutiny and ensuring that drivers know about safe driving principles. The piece of paper is not only a permit to drive but also an ‘X-ray’ of a holder’s records. It even contains a driver’s criminal record besides the basic data.

In Pakistan, we direly need to streamline a data-based driving licence system. As they say, ‘where there is a will there is a way’. A tremendous job was done just some weeks ago when the heads of eight licence issuing departments launched the National Driving Licence Repository (NDLR). This was done without any hassle as the police chiefs somehow got on the proverbial ‘same page’ devoid of any partisan principles. This effort has opened many windows for a fair and transparent procedure for the issuance of driving licences and maintaining a single database all over the country.

The licence issuing departments of Punjab and Sindh, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Police and the province’s transport department, and the Balochistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), and Islamabad police spearheaded by the National Highways and Motorway Police founded a much-needed central database of driving licences issued over decades. It took six months to store the existing nine million driving licence-holders’ data online on a single web portal that can be accessed by an Android application developed with the help of the Punjab Information Technology Board.

This widely awaited move is expected to resolve many enforcement issues, reduce accidents and carry out better accident analysis. Principally, with a single click, it would help in appraising licence category conversion and its verification besides halting and detecting fake licences and preventing any issuance of bogus and dual licences. The consolidation of the data helped identify some 61,000 duplicate driving licences within the first week of its operations.

Data analysts suggest that if continue in an effective manner, the NDLR can lead to the much-awaited and essential implementation of the point system, which will improve our driving culture. And whenever it is linked to e-ticketing, it is likely to result in unified execution throughout the country. Road discipline and the management of frequent traffic violations would further enhance if the vehicle registration-ownership and the insurance system are also somehow linked with the data of stolen vehicles. We can only wonder what could happen if one fine day, once again the few ‘heads’ of the relevant got on one page and did away with the red tape?

When I was serving as SP Traffic Police, Quetta, I learned the dynamics of road accidents – where a trivial oversight or favours to unskilled drivers who were somehow allowed to sit behind the steering wheel resulted in fatal collisions, human loss etc. For years, people with ‘references’ or money were able to get licences without even visiting the licence office or taking the mandatory test.

It was in 3200 BC that road travel became a mode of transportation – right after the invention of the wheel which was first used for carriage by Mesopotamian chariots. Centuries later, Karl Benz invented the first automobile in 1885 in Germany and received a written permit to drive. Licences became compulsory as the automobile industry boomed. Later, driving tests became mandatory before the issuance of licences. In the age of modernity, ‘hazard perception’ took the course for a secure driving permit with ‘eleven fields’ recognised as the standard format.

Traditionally, the ownership of cars was considered a luxury, but now it is a necessity, the workhorse of the century. Currently, more than 1.4 billion cars are registered worldwide. Globally, slightly over one million deaths and millions of serious injuries occur due to road crashes on an annual basis.

Conventionally, a driving licence is a legal authorisation to operate one or more types of motorised vehicles on a public road. In Pakistan, it started with a paper booklet but has now been transformed to a size of a credit card. Currently, it is fully digitised and comes with a magnetic strip incorporated with personal antecedents.

Internationally, the laws relating to driving licences evolved and had varied between jurisdictions. Different categories of driving permits often exist for different types of motor vehicles, particularly large commercial trucks and passenger buses. Driving tests do differ between areas, and factors such as age, competence, and a person’s disability are also taken into consideration.

Countries such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the US use driving licences as proof of identity. In many European countries, a person is not supposed to carry it all the time, but a driver may be asked to present his/her licence at a specified police station within seven days, if so warranted.

In Denmark, Finland, Norway, Spain and Sweden, the driving permit number is listed along with the bearer’s national identification number and is used for customer databases. Across the world, the minimum driving age for under 50cc mopeds is 16, for cars is 18, and for commercial vehicles is 21. Also, in many countries, people older than 70 must undergo strict medical tests to obtain a permit that has limited validity and requires regular renewals.

In our country, the number of registered vehicles is over 14.6 million. An average of 400 cars and over 4000 two- or three-wheelers are produced every day, putting a tremendous load on the existing road structure, while not correspondingly catering to the needs of commuters and the traffic department.

Road safety rules are simple, but drivers love to violate these rules despite knowing the irreversible cost attached to their carelessness. Overspeeding, distracted minds, lack of sleep, recklessness, inclement weather conditions, road rage, lane violations, less or zero visibility, noncompliance with traffic lights other guidelines, and mechanical shortcomings in vehicles are some of the common causes of road accidents.

When a person is out on the roads, s/he has some loved one who waits for his/her safe arrival. The sooner we realise that ‘accidents hurt, safety doesn’t’ the better.

The writer, a security expert, holds a PhD in Politics & International Relations, and is presently serving as IGP NHMP.