One buys a vehicle for the most peculiar reasons. You’ve come into a windfall; or you need to buy a swank set of wheels to show the world you have arrived; or you have had it with getting scratched and stomped and squeezed and groped in Goa’s buses. And then you set about getting yourself a driving licence. You can tool your car around an open space and then go to an “agent” who knows someone who knows someone in the RTO and you get your licence. Or you can pay a hefty sum to a driving school and learn how to drive in 31 short lessons, do the test and get your licence. Both methods of getting a driving licence do not equip you to venture safely out on to the roads. Your fellow motorists are not safe when you are at large with a newly issued driving licence.
I was so petrified when I drove out without my driving instructor that I had to beg a friend to teach me how to parallel park and reverse properly. The 31 lessons of the driving school did not cover the intricacies of reverse parallel parking. Or gauging the correct distance between the left side of one’s car and objects on the road – as in fetlocks of buffalos. But more of that later.
This business of road accidents is blamed on all sorts of things, cellphones, women drivers, badly engineered roads, over-speeding, coconut trees that ambush unwary drivers, stray animals, overtaking vehicles, alcohol and God. Everyone, especially the drivers themselves, pussyfoot around one single technical fact, that an accident is caused by one thing and one thing only – the nut behind the wheel.
It is the nut who gets in behind the wheel that makes and receives calls on his mobile phone while driving. Immediately his reflexes are slower by 60 per cent, his concentration is focused on the voice in his ear whether he uses a handset or a hands-free.
It is the nut behind the wheel that just has to overtake every vehicle in front of him, zigging and zagging, weaving in and out of traffic, overtaking on slopes, and leaning on the horn, making other drivers take their eyes off the road.
It is the nut behind the wheel that forgets to apply his handbrake and rolls backwards into another car, causing that car to brake suddenly and get rammed by the vehicle behind it.
It is the nut behind the wheel that does not get bald tires rethreaded or replaced, so after a slight drizzle, the car skids out of control.
It is the nut behind the wheel who will not take the trouble to gauge distances accurately. Here I am talking about my own lamentable habit of parking too close to a gutter and landing inside it on at least two occasions.
It is the nut behind the wheel that miscalculates the speed of the last buffalo crossing the highway behind a herd and bumps its fetlocks. I didn’t expect the silly animal to stop suddenly in mid-stroll. A good driver would have slowed down to a crawl.
A good driver reverses slowly and carefully, but the nut behind the wheel reverses rapidly hoping for the best.
A good driver wears her seat belt and adjusts her rear and side view mirrors properly before driving anywhere. The nut behind the wheel fastens her seatbelt when she sees the traffic cops and adjusts her mirrors while driving.
It’s those minor silly errors by the nut behind the wheel that cause accidents which could range from a tiny dent to utter destruction with blood and body parts spread over a five- metre radius. The most horrendous accidents are attributed to drunken driving which means that this is one instance when the nut behind the wheel should not be tight.