Editorial: Not Honking? Good!

Let’s try and curtail mobile phone urges now

Drive out to any section of road in Sikkim where traffic cops are unlikely to spy on the driving habits of the hands controlling the wheels, and you are bound to come across drivers chatting away on their mobile phones. An occasional driver might have the hands-free option to service his telecom-dependence, but a majority will have a hand pressed to their ears to keep conversations going. The frequency of such sightings is unnerving, but the practice continues. As the town limits approach, so do the artful dodges to evade detection. And this is only one of the risks and irritations one suffers on Sikkim roads. Driving into Gangtok is not an experience recommended for those short on patience. The windfall of EMI-option ownerships has littered the roads with more vehicles than can move unhindered on the capital’s hemmed by buildings roads. For a highway, a national one at that, NH10 in Gangtok is ridiculously ambushed by bottlenecks in its course up the Gangtok hill, and any drive to town needs lurching and stalling through serpentine stretches of idling vehicles and groaning engines and moaning passengers. What is now noticeably missing from the experience is the harassment of near ceaseless honking by the more impatient drivers who used to believe that the horn helps clear jams. Well, they didn’t, at least not in Sikkim, but the relative calm of reduced honking on Gangtok roads has made the traffic snarls slightly less stressful. This, largely thanks to the bordering on facetious sight of traffic police personnel who went to town to discourage honking. Initially, of course, like most things in Sikkim, it started with an outright ban. Drivers and commuters are not used to traffic cops making ‘appeals’, given that its reprimands or tough traffic management that they are normally seen doing, and it was perhaps for that reason that the placard effort was initially either not noticed, or suspected of being even a prank. But the uniform is a powerful medium to convey messages it seems, and thus, without any challans being cut or drivers embarrassed on the highway, the Gangtok propensity to honk every time the vehicle ahead so much as slowed down, has been quelled. Of course, the occasional instinctive pressing of the horn still happens, but more and more drivers are learning to control their urge only because the cops have been strict. The honking on Gangtok roads has come down for this reason and not because of a realisation that it is irritating, disturbing, unnecessary or [noise] pollution-causing, and with that is reinforced the dejection that despite everything, even etiquette, unfortunately, needs to be enforced. Since the traffic personnel have achieved so much so quickly for Gangtok and Sikkim’s other towns, it is hoped that they also fashion some means of saving commuters from irresponsible driving common on Sikkim roads, the perpetually talking on phone syndrome requiring immediate attention. And this effort needs to move beyond the city roads and needs interventions along the otherwise not-policed stretches.