Sneha Makhijani, a 16-year-old resident of Noida, moved to India from the United States with her family five years ago. She still vividly remembers her first road journey upon moving to Delhi – from the airport to their hotel. The manner in which people drove in India left her ‘bewildered’ and had a lasting impression on the young girl. So much so that she has made it her mission to educate motorists on road discipline.
Sneha was in class 8 when she started Myroadsafety, an online and offline platform, which urges people to not only drive safely following rules and regulations but also make an attempt to change the social conditioning we all grow up with.
“Driving in the US was a pleasurable activity. We would often go on road trips together while in the US. That changed once we moved to India. I noticed that everytime my parents would get ready for a drive there was such a strain on them. It sounded like they dreaded it,” she says.
Among all of that which is wrong with our motorists – wrong lane driving, a general disrespect for road rules, the one thing that continues to irk her is all the noise that motorists in India make.
And her effort is much needed in India – with more than 5 lakh road accidents every year, Indian roads claim the lives of 1.46 lakh citizens annually. Break it down further and that’s 17 deaths an hour, 400 per day. Mumbai saw the highest number of accidents of all cities in the country; Delhi topped the list of fatalities with 1,622 deaths last year. This was the statistic that Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari put out for 2015.
In countries like Norway, Germany, Italy, and Canada, driving is an enjoyable activity. The rules pertaining to road safety are taken very seriously by motorists, thereby reducing the number of fatalities.
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“People in India have just been brought up thinking it is fine to drive the way they do. More than a legal issue it is the social conditioning that needs to change,” she says.
Weekends are usually when Sneha and her parents go into the streets of Noida and talk to drivers at various signals about the importance of road safety. “Some people are very receptive towards me and actually give me a patient hearing, while some others, usually middle aged people dismiss me saying I am too young to be telling them what to do.” Sneha persists and ensures that she talks to as many people as she can.
A few weeks from now this campaign is going to be taken various Regional Transport Offices (RTO). “We intend to speak to those who have just got their driving licenses and even those who are there to get licenses made. The idea is to educate these young drivers about the importance of following rules and regulations.”
We start by asking them what they would like to see changed, how in their opinion road safety could be better, and from that conversation we would urge them to follow rules and start the change. “It has been a great learning for me and at the same time when I see the small differences we have been able to bring about, I feel good.”