Of all the irritants in a Karachiites life, traffic situation tops the list. Some twenty or so years ago, things weren’t this bad. People still knew that driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road is not just wrong, it’s extremely dangerous. However, over the course of time, we have managed to abandon reason and took up self-pity. It has led us to adopt the so-called necessary evils of traffic violations that have ruined the system here in Pakistan.
Our rationality and reasoning have come down to this: A rickshaw driver has to feed kids, for that he has to save fuel, to save fuel he has to take short-cuts and for short cuts he has to drive on the wrong side of the road. So driving on the wrong side of the roads helps you feed your kids. Good. Let’s move on.
There’s more. We are constantly reminded by well-wishers that stopping on the red light is more dangerous than jumping it. How often do we receive this advice? If you love your phone or valuables, whatever you do, just don’t stop, especially for a red light. You say to yourself, well everyone’s doing it, so I am not going to embarrass myself by being the odd one out, let’s just follow the pack. Well, we don’t look very intelligent doing such things in our shiny new Hondas and Toyotas. And when it comes to fixing things up, we tend to shrug off our responsibilities because of course, fixing is the job of somebody in the government or those policemen in whites. Many turn to digital social media to get the attention of those responsible. But, that’s not going to solve the problem. Here’s why.
Though social activism is not a new concept, the younger generation of Pakistanis have recently realized its true potential through Facebook, Twitter and the likes. Hit social campaigns like #FixIt get tremendous praise from the internet crowd. So much so, that change looks inevitable but like every other ‘trend’ such campaigns run out of steam and the crowd moves on to the next #Hit thing.
Many organizations and political parties have tried their hand at creating an influence using these tools but have been largely ineffective in changing opinions across the length and breadth of the country. The reason is that in developing countries, social media’s reach is hugely overestimated. Though, the 3G/4G revolution has changed things, the pace of change is not rapid enough. A brother who drives a rickshaw doesn’t even read newspapers, forget about Twitter. Also, the idea that one man or one group can change the future is quite flawed. A single individual cannot man the traffic post, improve law and order or educate drivers, all at the same time. A single individual can only hope to influence people by setting up an example or give birth to an idea. Now, it is the society’s job to follow up on that idea, if it’s worth it, and set examples in real-life scenarios.
There’s a need to reincarnate social activism in its pure spirit, by not just talking about the change but being the change. I’d like to call it Petro-Activism and here’s what we can start from:
1. Change yourself. Read that green book that has the traffic signals printed on it. You may know your Jedi mind tricks by now, time for you to learn some road etiquette as well.
2. Don’t stop or park at corners. This literally takes a lane away from the road if someone has to take a turn. If you have time, try to educate people politely as well as most of them do not have this understanding.
3. If you are traveling in a rickshaw or taxi, ask the driver not to take any short-cuts or attempt to drive on the wrong side. If he refuses, pay him extra, if you can.
4. If you own a bike, try to follow the same route that is followed by a car. If a small car such as Mehran can’t take the pavement, you can’t either. Remember, don’t drive on the wrong side of the road. A head-on collision with a car traveling at 40 km/h is enough to take your life.
5. Avoid double parking. Karachi’s roads were not broadened so that Mr. Lazy can get his snacks real quick.
6. This one is for those ranting and retweeting about stuff, how about printing a poster and pasting it on your trunk saying: “Driver follows traffic rules, be patient”.