Joyrides are safe rides

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25 year old Ashish Ahuja was really excited about going to visit his ex-campus for the first time in years. FLAME Institute of Communications, nestled in the lofty Lavale village on the outskirts of Pune had been his home for a good two years, and now he'd be going on a luxuriously long drive in his new Nissan Micra from Mumbai to Pune, just so he could reunite with his ex-batchmates and relive the memories of those glorious post-graduation days.

He had gifted himself the compact, berry coloured Nissan Micra after getting an early promotion at work. The nation might still be waiting, but for him, 'acche din' were certainly here! "Please drive safely," his mother advised, before he left at 6 AM after a quick cup of coffee. Ashish had entertained the idea of driving over the previous night and waking up in bright spirits for the alumni meet, but he voted in favour of the safer option of driving during the day. And at 6 AM, the traffic would be as negligible as it would have been late in the night.

As he was about to enter the key into the ignition, it struck him that he hadn't worn the safety belt. Although it felt so much freer to drive without it, Ashish inserted the belt into its buckle and sat back to enjoy a secure drive along the Mumba-Pune express way. He normally awoke at 7:30 AM and felt a little groggy, as he cruised along the way. "Let me get another cup of coffee and some breakfast," he thought to himself. He stopped at the first drive-through restaurant he saw, and grabbed a strong espresso and a Subway sandwich to keep him alert for the next two or three hours. As he finished eating and drinking, he felt his energy levels return and smiled, as the morning sun shone on his unshaven face. Yes, his batchmates would be quite surprised to see him in a relatively dishevelled avatar! But Ashish had changed over the years; grown less finicky; although he was as particular about safety as ever.

As he drove, Ashish kept a look out for vehicles around him - before, behind and alongside his car. The car moved like a dream, and the Pink Floyd song kept his spirits even higher. He was glad he had remembered to adjust his rear view and side view mirrors beforehand, so he had an excellent view of the road. Odd, there seemed to be another Nissan Micra a little ahead of him. That one was a midnight blue in colour. "That would have been a nice option too," Ashish mused. At one point, he veered too close to the car ahead and immediately made sure that he put some distance between them. Although it was tempting to speed up on that deserted stretch, Ashish stayed within speed limits, You never knew when you might have to suddenly halt.

There would be alcohol at the meeting, Ashish knew. And that was why he planned to stay overnight and drive back the next morning. That way, he would also have more time with his friends and ex teachers. He was jerked out of his reverie by the chiming sound of his phone. His girlfriend was calling. Ashish checked his watch - yes, it was 7 AM, the exact hour at which Apeksha awoke every day without fail. He pulled over safely and then received the call. "Aren't you getting ready to jog?" "Yes, just thought I'd check on you once," Apeksha said. They spoke briefly and hung up. He didn't want to be late for the meet and Apeksha did not want to miss her jogging session.

To his surprise, Ashish heard the sound of an ambulance siren behind him. It seemed that accidents could occur at any time of the day. He was glad he hadn't turned up the volume of the track although it was his favourite one - comfortably numb. He slowed down to allow the ambulance to pass and fulfil its duty. He smiled, remembering his family's ecstatic reactions to his new vehicle. They felt it was a good choice, considering he had only paid 6 lakhs for it and although it looked small, the car had enough space for his safety toolkit consisting of a spare tire, tire jack, jumper cable and other miscellaneous tools in case he ever had a break down. Ashish's motto in life had always been, 'be prepared for anything, at all times'. And it had stood him in great stead, even as he sadly watched many peers meet terrible fates thanks to their devil-may-care attitudes.

Ashish recalled that there was a school on the way to the campus. Sure enough, there was a 'Stop' sign a little ahead. He stopped, although he was sure the school would be shut on a Saturday. But as soon as he halted, he saw a couple of kids dart out, dressed in their blue and white checked uniforms. Ah yes, the concept of half days. It was surprising how much one tended to forget as time passed! After another half hour, Ashish knew he was quite close to the campus and the winding hilly turns would soon begin. He slowed down, although he was already within the speed limit, because such turns were always tricky to navigate. He recalled how his previous car had displayed steering problems at this juncture. Ashish had had to pull over and look into his tires. But the Nissan Micra gave him no such issues.

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The above story unfortunately, is more fictional than real, because many of us do not behave like Ashish at all. In fact, we are just the opposite, choosing to ignore road safety signs and forgetting our helmets and seat belts with no regards for our safety. The trouble with accidents is that they seldom come with warning. And while no one ever thinks they'll be a victim of one, quite a few end up learning that they were quite wrong in that assumption. It is to encourage the 'safety habit' that Nissan has launched the Nissan Safety Driving Forum. The program,e began as an annual activity in 2012. In its initial phase. it covered three main Indian cities – New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai – and since then, has gradually expanded to several additional cities across India. This year, NSDF would reach eight new cities – Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Jaipur, Vadodara, Nagpur, Chennai, Mangalore and Kochi. The overall reach and engagement levels have phenomenally grown and NSDF has effectively reached close to two lakh citizens. Wondering what all the noise is about? If daily newspaper reports of road mishaps are not proof enough, here are some statistics:
  • 138,258 people died of road accidents in India in 2012. That’s a little less than the population of Maldives;
  • In recent years, as China has made its roads safer, India has overtaken China as the largest contributor to road accident deaths;
  • As per the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 461 people died and 1,301 more were injured every day in traffic accidents in the country during 2012. This makes it 19 deaths every hour—or more than one death every three minutes;
  • All of India’s neighbors have fewer accident deaths per 100,000 than India. Bangladesh is the best at 11.6, followed by Mauritius (12.2), Bhutan (13.2), Sri Lanka (13.7), Myanmar (15), Nepal (16) and Pakistan (17.4).
Nevertheless, there is hope. According to World Health Organization figures, India’s accident death rate of 18.9 for every 100,000 people is only a little higher than the global average, 18. Many countries have a much higher accident death rate—Thailand (38), South Africa (32), Venezuela (37.2), Oman (34), Nigeria (33), Iran (34), Iraq (31), Saudi Arabia (28), Malaysia (25) and China (20.5). Compared to the previous year, NSDF has witnessed an impressive 126 per cent growth in the sensitisation of wearing seatbelts. In addition, NSDF also conducts live simulated experiences to understand how safety features function through a simulated car crash. A 360-degree turn over highlights the use of seatbelts, while sessions on road safety emphasises on road etiquette to stay safe. Nissan seeks to support reducing fatalities and injuries caused by traffic accidents, and NSDF represents the company's commitment in contributing to young, vibrant and mobile India. To know more about the initiative, visit https://www.nissan.in/innovation/NSDF.html

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If you wish to inculcate the safe habit, here are some guidelines for you to follow and educate others about:

1. Always wear your seat belt, whether you're driving or in the front or back seat. And insist on everyone else in the car doing the same;
2. Participate, but don't get too distracted by the conversation or music, if you are the driver. Always be alert.
3. Make sure your side and rear view mirrors are adjusted to the correct angle and keep an eye on them at regular intervals.
4. While driving, maintain your focus on the vehicles before, behind and alongside you and maintain sufficient distance between yourself and them.
5. Irrespective of where you're driving, always stay within speed limits. Slow down wherever required - especially at blind turns and narrow alleys.
6. Don't jump signals even if you're in a hurry. Follow road signs that ask you to stop or slow down.
7. Don't use your cellphone while driving. Ask someone else to receive a call or check a message if it's urgent; else pull over and use the phone.
8. Don't test the volume limits of your stereo system. It's good for the car and for your safety, because you might need to hear ambulance and siren calls as well as the honks of other vehicles.
9. Always have a safety tool kit stashed in your career consisting of basic repair tools and a spare tyre. Learn to change your tire and use these tools if need be.
10. If you think your car is giving trouble, don't continue in the hope that it will correct itself. Pull over and look into the problem - it could be something serious.
11. Don't drive when angry or emotionally agitated. Take a few deep breaths, calm down. Get your focus back and only then should you get into the driver's seat.
12. Store emergency contact numbers in your phone in case your car breaks down or has an accident.
13. Never drink and drive. Have a backup ready, if you're going to a place where you might imbibe alcohol.
14. Take your car or bike for regular maintenance visits, so that you can spot any malfunctions in the machinery early and rectify them in time.

For Ashish, #SafetyBeginsWithMe was almost a personal motto. And if more of us believe the same, maybe the school of thought that believes 'fun' can't equate 'safety' will find fewer takers. Happy driving, and remember the best road trips are the ones that are bolstered by safe driving habits.

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This post was written as a part of the #SafetyBeginsWithMe campaign by Nissan Safety Driving Forum and Indiblogger