A few weeks ago, the driver of a minivan slept at the wheel while travelling on the Motorway (M-2). He crashed into a truck resulting in five casualties. Several slogans have been displayed on the road saying “Speed thrills but kills”, “Don’t drive if you are tired”, “Check your tyres” etc. Sloganeering helps but if the driver sleeps it is invariably a disaster.

While driving across Europe to Pakistan in the eighties, I briefly dozed off on the wheel. I had driven all night to cross over from Yugoslavia into Greece. On the way to Athens, I was on a collision course with a bus coming from the opposite direction. Luckily, the lorry was equipped with power horns and bright lights. I was alerted by a combination of noise and light just in time to correct my course to reach my destination safely.

Drivers have to be alert to drive and must read and follow the signs on the road. After driving tests abroad, most Pakistanis receive a common observation, “Does not read the signs”. While we know how to drive, we ignore the requirements of the traffic regulation systems. Traffic violations affect the flow on the road, but sleeping on the wheels is deadly.

Today, most of drivers in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are either sleeping or not alert enough to read the signs on the road. Tunneled or blocked vision will get us nowhere. The signs are there but no one is reading them. Horns are being honked and lights are being flashed yet the drivers are not being alerted into getting back on course. Collision is imminent unless the drivers wake up to take charge and correct their direction. Under the prevailing circumstances a crash seems unavoidable.

Then there are drivers who drive in the dark and bring darkness in the lives of their passengers. I too had one such experience. In 1971, after the FSc exams, we decided to visit Chitral. It was an arduous journey mostly covered on foot from Dir with Lowari Top being the highest point (10,000 Ft). After reaching the top, the team ran out of fuel. It was decided to seek a ride for the rest of the journey. Next morning, as we stood on the road, a Land Rover jeep belonging to Tarbela Joint Venture (TJV) was returning back which we boarded to abandon our adventure. We were dropped on GT Road from where we boarded a GTS (Government Transport Service) bus for Rawalpindi. As the sun set, we dozed off, until loud noises were heard. The driver had lost his way and was scraping against tree branches on the side of the road. The bus had no lights as the fuse had blown away. The driver was relying on the lights of the vehicle following us and denied him the space to overtake. In frustration, the driver of the trailing vehicle switched off his lights throwing us into darkness. It was a scary, unique experience of moving in the dark.

With borrowed lights, high speed and pitch darkness our choices were very limited. Though the driver was alert he lost control of the bus. We barely survived. The passengers then took control and forced the driver to drive slowly on the side. A journey of minutes was stretched to hours but we were able to reach our destination in safety. Every journey is an experience but some leave lasting impressions and unforgettable lessons. The driver is always a key player; he has to be prepared and alert for the safety of the passengers that he has been assigned to carry. Unfortunately, the lack of competent drivers is not limited to our motorways, they are all over, every institution has been infested by ‘Anarees’, or the incompetent.

Growing up in Lahore we had the luxury of public transport. The Lahore Omnibus Service (LOS) covered the entire city including schools and colleges. Punjab University started its own bus service when the New Campus was built outside the city on the canal. Model Town, which was considered another independent township had its own service called MTBS (Model Town Bus Service). Most drivers were trained and buses well kept. It was a great service for the people, the double deckers were very enjoyable. Students could travel on special discounted fares (10 paisas).

When I returned in the eighties to the city of my birth, the transport scene had changed. LOS was replaced with Urban Transport Corporation (UTC) with yellow painted Volvo buses. LOS properties and assets were mostly squandered. New bus depots were established. There was a great decline in service, the new transport system was named “Israelis” as the drivers were reckless. Once I was returning from Kot Lakhpat in light drizzle, I saw a loaded bus skidding in my direction, with quick reflex I was able to save my car by going off road behind an electric pole.

Invariably in every bus on the front seat there was a sign posted saying “sleeping is prohibited”. The same sign should now be posted on the driver’s seat as well. With tired and fatigued individuals at the helm, no one is safe. The slide of the decade of eighties has to be reversed by bringing in trained and alert drivers who can read the signs and drive safely.

Quaid-e-Azam used to work late. Once he was asked the reason of keeping awake at night. His answer was, “How can I sleep when my nation is asleep?” It seems everyone is slumbering in the land of the pure. The nation has to become alert to keep drivers on the road otherwise the ‘Israelis’ will hit us. Our journey is seriously hampered with the kind of intoxicated drivers that ply their vehicles on our thorough fares.