Road accidents, the law and social responsibility

When we think of it seriously we would realise that individual responsibility has perhaps the major role to play on the road when it comes to safety, and while the law can protect us, such protection can never be 100%

“The Road Traffic Amendment Bill has been passed without any amendments, and the Minister concerned has insisted that it is going to be zero tolerance for blood alcohol level. This is despite arguments advanced by some Opposition Members. According to some experts, there is such a thing as a ‘natural’ level of alcohol in the blood, and one can well ask what will happen if someone is tested and is found to have, say, an alcohol level of 2mg? Of course, according to the law that will be passed, this is an infringement, and the person will have to pay a fine, or go through a complicated legal process if he wishes to defend himself. But the law is blind, it is said, and it will apply irrespective…”


It would be a very foolish driver indeed who would take to the road in a drunken state. Unfortunately, many do, and if they were to have an accident, they should be the ones to assume entire responsibility for that. The sad reality is that accidents have consequences, which in their state of inebriety such irresponsible people ignore, with outcomes that cause not only distress to their own kith and kin and to those of others involved in the accident, but also material damage which ups the costs of, for one, insurance, for all car owners.

However, being drunken is not the same as having had one drink, and any responsible adult, especially one with family who goes out to enjoy an evening would surely not take any undue risk by consuming more than a minimum, whatever the law says. For, in the final analysis, the law can only go so far, and it is the individual who has to be aware and to put as priority his safety and that of those travelling with him.

The Road Traffic Amendment Bill has been passed without any amendments, and the Minister concerned has insisted that it is going to be zero tolerance for blood alcohol level. This is despite arguments advanced by some Opposition Members. Of course, as we have heard it said, government is government and government decides. Fair enough: this is representative, not direct democracy, and if we have elected guys to Parliament to represent us citizens, which includes passing legislations, we have no choice once this is done but to abide by the law.

That should not prevent us from voicing our opinions, for in a number of very responsible jurisdictions, such as India, a level of blood alcohol is accepted in law, and in the nature of things, this seems more reasonable. According to some experts, there is such a thing as a ‘natural’ level of alcohol in the blood, and one can well ask what will happen if someone is tested and is found to have, say, an alcohol level of 2mg? Of course, according to the law that will be passed, this is an infringement, and the person will have to pay a fine, or go through a complicated legal process if he wishes to defend himself. But the law is blind, it is said, and it will apply irrespective.

We must therefore hope that there will be a follow-up by the authorities once the Bill becomes law, in the sense of analyzing cases that will inevitably add up over time, and correlate blood alcohol levels with accident rates and any other variable that experts recommend. On such sound basis, a future amendment may then be made to allow for what would be considered a safe blood alcohol level in a driver.

The fact is, unlike ministers, officials and the well-to-do, most people cannot afford to keep or to hire a driver, and it would be a very dull society indeed if ordinary folks were to refrain from venturing out to socialize and relax because of an unduly restrictive measure.

Road responsibility

This said, however, there are other aspects of the road accidents issue that must be highlighted. For example, many a time one comes across someone on a bicycle which has no rear light or a phosphorescent strip on the mudguard that would alert a car driver when it is dark. Similarly, there are motorcyclists who pose risks when they zig-zag in between cars. When this happens on the motorway, when a car driver is already under tension what with the heavy traffic most of the time, the risk in multiplied.

On the other hand, from a medical point of view it is known that the worse injuries in road accidents are associated with motorcycles, and those who drive them should be doubly careful as to their behaviour on the roads. For them in particular, avoiding any alcohol consumption if they are going to use the motorcycle is an absolute must for their own sake. This applies particularly to the youth who tend to be daring – at a high cost to themselves which their bravado does not take into account.

There are also some drivers who try to shift lanes without any warning. Again this tendency seems to prevail when everybody is equally under pressure to reach work or home, and those who indulge in such a practice should have a better sense of road responsibility. So too drivers who stick to the fast lane and go at snail speed, thereby obstructing traffic and causing irritation to those who are following them – which leads the latter to attempt a risky lane change. We trust that such slow drivers show some understanding, for there may be genuine reasons why someone is in a hurry.

It is also a fact that there are some people who think that the motorway is a racing track, especially if they have big cars. On a Sunday afternoon, several years ago, such a vehicle, a brand new Audi whizzed past me at the level of the Palladium night club and overtook a few other cars as the driver sped and literally zig-zagged his way ahead. I told myself this fellow is going to be in trouble soon. When I was approaching the Phoenix roundabout, the luxury Audi was now a pile of twisted metal on one side of the road.

At the end of the day, when we think of it seriously we would realise that individual responsibility has perhaps the major role to play on the road when it comes to safety, and while the law can protect us, such protection can never be 100%.

* * *

Weather change, climate change, or both?

Grrrr!! Almost everybody is agreed that this is by far the coldest winter we are experiencing in recent memory. Also, it has set in late and folklore would have it that it is, as a result, likely to last until late September. Perhaps, or rather most probably with more colder days to come.

You know that the winter is hard when even people living in Port Louis complain that it is cold…

On Tuesday early morning the wind was so strong and the cold so bitter that in Curepipe at least our teeth were rattling, and when I woke up at 6.30 I told myself no walk today, stay in bed! And next morning when I met my lovely lady fellow walkers I greeted them with ‘zotte pou gagne batte si zotte dire moi zone vine marcher hier!’(‘You’re going to get a beating if you tell me you walked yesterday!’)

Of course they teased me and said yes, all of us were present, before we went on to talk about, what else, the cold days and what we had had the previous night for dinner and desert and so on. Conversation that warmed us all up and that cheered us for the rest of the day. We are really lucky in Curepipe to have Trou-O-Cerfs, which helps us to live out and fulfil WHO’s definition of health as being ‘not merely the absence of disease, but a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.’ Not really a tall order if one puts one’s heart and will to it.

However, what we are going through is nothing compared to the vagaries of climate the Japanese and the Greeks have been suffering. In Japan it is an unexpected and unusual heat wave, with temperatures recording a high of 41.1 degrees Celsius, apparently related to a warming Arctic. At least two dozen people have died, mostly the old, who also form the bulk of about 30,000 that have been admitted for treatment in hospitals. I could not help thinking that in India the summer temperatures are as high and more as a matter of routine. I have been in New Delhi standing on the road with the tar sticking to my shoe soles when the temperature was 47 degrees Celsius – and roadside vendors were selling boiling hot tea to willing customers! It’s all a question of adaptation, to a large extent.

In Greece tragedy struck when forest fires allied with strong winds swept through towns and villages near Athens. People were caught unawares, and dozens have died including whole families with their children, some huddled together. Hundreds more ran as fast they could towards the sea nearby, where even there the flames had reached, with some of them being able to get away for some distance in boats and yatches. Afterwards whole lines of charred vehicles were seen on the streets where the fires had raged. The Greek PM flew back from Bosnia where he was on an official visit and declared three days of national mourning.

We face very uncertain days ahead in many parts of the world, and we have to be mentally prepared to face the worse scenarios that are awaiting us for sure in the future.

 


* Published in print edition on 27 July 2018

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