Thursday, January 12, 2017

A few driving tips that might save lives

Photo of me on the driver's seat of my car. Image taken just for fun on 10th November 2016 on the way back from Dechenphug Lhakhang.

Being a driver comes with great responsibility. The one who is behind the wheel is responsible for the safety of so many people including the passengers in the car and pedestrians on the road. It is for this reason that driving is not something that should be taken lightly. It is a job that requires the perfect coordination of thought and action. The drivers must always be mindful of what they are doing while driving so that they won’t get distracted easily. People say driving is like meditating because it requires full concentration and devotion. Even the slightest distraction can lead to catastrophic disaster. It is popularly said that a driver should have four eyes: two at the back and two at the front. This means that he or she should be always vigilant and alert. One must never drive with divided attention. Knowing how to drive a car alone does not make you a real driver. There are many things one must keep in mind while driving to ensure that everybody is safe. The following are some key points that might save lives on the road.

Do not ever try to arrange things or do anything else in the car while driving. One evening last year, a man was driving to Thimphu from Wangdue Phodrang and when he reached Dochula, he felt thirsty. So controlling the steering wheel with one hand, he picked up the water-bottle with his other hand and started gulping down the water. Since he was facing upward while drinking water, he had no idea where his car was heading. In a flash of seconds, his car veered off the road and crashed, and although all his passengers escaped with minor injuries, he ended up at the Intensive Care Unit of JDW National Referral Hospital for months. In a separate incident, another man while driving home with his daughter in Motithang area ran off the road and crashed into a tree when he was trying to pick up the jar-can of Ara (locally brewed alcohol) that had fallen down from the seat. Luckily, nothing happened to either of them but the car was slightly damaged. Similarly, some of us might remember how some years ago a bus fell off the road near Dochula when the driver was trying to change the cassette tape in the stereo. Engaging in such activities while driving can cause significant distractions and road accidents can easily happen. The driver’s manual suggests that we should not even adjust our seats while driving. No matter how busy we might be, we must always stop the car and do what we want to do rather than risking our lives by trying to do it as we drive.

Using mobile phones is another major cause of distraction while driving. A young man was recently driving his friend’s car in Thimphu when his phone suddenly rang. As he was trying to answer it, he lost control of his car and slammed against the roadside parapet. He escaped without injury but the car suffered a huge damage. It is for such reasons that we have strict traffic rules in Bhutan that prohibit the use of mobile phones while driving. No matter how urgent it may be, you should never attend the calls while you are driving. Even if you are driving through the middle of the town where you are not allowed to stop and park, the traffic rules do allow you to stop at least to tell the caller you are driving and that you would return the call later. You must stop the car at a safe spot and attend the calls.

The other important point you should remember is that you should not let your children sit on the front seat while driving. In the Western countries, you will be fined if you keep your children in the front seat because in times of accidents especially during the head-on collision or for that matter, even when you have to apply the brakes suddenly, they are more likely to get injured. Moreover, the children may fiddle with important instruments and equipment that might cause accidents. Last year, a friend of mine lost her 8-month-old baby in an accident that happened when her 4-year-old daughter who had sat in the front seat had allegedly released the parking brake, causing the car to move before her husband, the driver had got in. In order to avoid such mishaps, children should be always kept at the rear-seat.

Falling asleep during long drive due to fatigue is another common cause of fatal accidents. If drivers know they are feeling sleepy while driving, they should immediately stop and refresh themselves either by taking a nap or washing their face. They should never take risk by forcing their way through their drowsiness. Drivers say they can fall asleep with their eyes wide open. So even the person sitting next to the driver won’t know that he or she is asleep. On 28th March 2010, a Drangpon of Lhuntse Dzongkhag died when his car fell down near Mendregang Gewog on the Punakha-Thimphu highway. The cause of the accident was said to be fatigue and sleepiness due to the long drive from Lhuntse to Thimphu without any halt on the way. Similarly, I and few of my friends were travelling in a public bus from Gelephu to Thimphu In January 2010 when the driver had fallen asleep and we nearly crashed. The entire bus was silent with everybody on board asleep including myself and my friends. Suddenly, the bus came to an abrupt stop and the driver jumped out. When he came back, he told us how we nearly crashed because he had fallen asleep. He said he was jerked awake only when the bus trembled as it ran along the edge of the road. We were lucky that day. But we cannot be always lucky like that.

To all the drivers, I would like to say that our safety is your responsibility. Please drive with extra caution and care. Do not ever drink-drive or over-speed. The safety of people travelling with you and the pedestrians walking along the road cannot be compromised. Self-awareness is key to responsible driving. So always remain fully awake and alert while driving. Do not let your mind get distracted. Mindful driving can definitely save yourself and others from tragic accidents.

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