On those scorching summer days, when the skies threatened rain without warning, a group of us, first-year students from Kathmandu School of Law, embarked on a unique adventure.
We volunteered as traffic police officers, eager to gain firsthand knowledge of the world of traffic laws and regulations. Our volunteer journey lasted for around a week, and we were assigned to various bustling traffic sites across Kathmandu.
This volunteering work became an eye-opening experience for me and I got to reflect on the challenges faced by traffic police officers in Nepal.
At the assigned site
From the first day, the reality of chaotic traffic hit us hard. Despite our extensive knowledge of traffic rules, we were met with a blatant disregard for regulations on the roads. It was disheartening for us, as law students, to witness the sheer audacity with which people flouted rules designed for their safety.
In our upbringing, we were taught that civilised people would adhere to and respect authority rules. However, the on-ground reality was starkly different. The traffic police officers we worked alongside were tirelessly trying to get people to obey these rules for their own safety, and it was disconcerting to witness the uphill battle they faced.
The issues on the road extended beyond mere disobedience of traffic rules. The entire road safety system and infrastructure seemed to be crumbling, primarily due to the behaviour of the locals rather than any shortcomings of the authorities. Despite the presence of traffic lights, zebra crossings, sky bridges, and well-maintained footpaths, pedestrians and drivers continued to engage in dangerous practices.
Crossing the road at non-designated locations, haphazard parking, and ignoring zebra crossings were common occurrences. When educated about these issues, people often responded with excuses like ignorance, impatience, or the prevailing lawlessness in Nepal.
Road hygiene emerged as another pressing concern during our volunteer period. The indiscriminate spitting and littering posed a serious health risk, especially in an era where any contagion can trigger a pandemic.
It became evident that the relevant authorities should take immediate action, including issuing official notices and imposing stringent penalties, to curb these practices. Our volunteer experience also exposed a deeply rooted issue of harassment against female police officers.
The comments and questions directed at these officers, ranging from school-going teenagers to adults, highlighted the deficiencies in Nepal’s education system when it came to teaching basic morals and ethics.
Shocking attitude and need for a sense of responsibility
This behaviour underscored the deeply ingrained patriarchy still prevalent in Nepali society. As our volunteer period progressed, we were shocked to discover that many individuals were utterly unaware of even the most basic traffic and driving regulations. This is despite the fact that traffic accidents are a leading cause of premature mortality in Nepal. Obtaining a driver’s license had become so effortless that many drivers no longer bothered to familiarise themselves with the fundamental rules.
Even facilities like sky bridges and walkways, designed to enhance pedestrian safety, were underutilised because people lacked awareness of when and how to use them. The fundamental importance of adhering to traffic rules seemed lost on many. When traffic officers attempted to enforce these rules, they were often accused of corruption or incompetence, further eroding their authority and respect in the eyes of the public.
The prevailing attitude among Nepalis appeared to be one of blame-shifting, rumour spreading, and critiquing the government, all while claiming that Nepal remained underdeveloped. However, when it came to actively working with the government to effect change, many seemed resistant. The root cause of these issues, we concluded, was a general lack of awareness, widespread illiteracy, and incomplete education among the populace.
To combat this, we suggested that the government consider mandating a minimum number of volunteer hours in traffic management as a prerequisite for obtaining a driver’s license. This would not only enhance individuals’ understanding of road safety but also foster a sense of responsibility for their own and others’ safety.
Engaging in voluntary traffic management had a profound impact on us. It improved our cognitive abilities, rationality, and open-mindedness. Personally, I will never view traffic police officers the same way again. I have gained a newfound appreciation for their dedication and the immense challenges they face.
In conclusion, our volunteer experience illuminated the myriad challenges faced by traffic police officers in Nepal.
It highlighted the urgent need for comprehensive education on traffic laws and safety, stricter enforcement of regulations, and a cultural shift towards respecting and cooperating with authorities.
While Nepal faces numerous road safety challenges, our passionate group of student volunteers represents a glimmer of hope for a future where traffic police are no longer viewed as machines but as dedicated public servants striving to keep the streets safe for all.