Bijoy’s blog: Ambulances are as well responsible for many accidents
I spent most of last October in my home state of Kerala to be with my dad who went through a bypass surgery. That meant a great deal of driving around in Kerala’s capital town in my dad’s trustworthy Maruti Suzuki Alto. It is the ideal car for the narrow and congested streets and parking is a breeze too. It is another matter altogether that I was literally overflowing from the car most of the time and getting in and getting out was an ordeal. But soon I fell in love with the little red Alto. Despite the 800cc three-pot heart, the Alto would blastoff traffic signals and I revelled in sneaking behind traffic and filling every inch of the available road space. But there was one thing I was not ready for. The mighty Kerala ambulance culture. Allow me to explain.
In the last decade or so, ambulance drivers have taken their job very seriously in Kerala, or it seemed so. Every day I encountered ambulances – they come in different sizes and shapes – blaring multitude of sirens and flashing a zillion lights. Whether they are based on the little Maruti Omni, the larger Eeco or for that matter the Force Traveller didn’t matter – they would be doing speeds over 100kmph and splitting traffic. Sure there are a lot of road accidents and other emergencies but hey, that is true to every Indian state, right? I saw ambulances breaking signals with gay abandon and even driving on the wrong side of the road. Of course other road users were giving the right of way to these speed demons – but I think it was out of sheer survival instincts rather than the collective civic sense that comes with the high literacy rate. In simple terms, there was no other option but to scurry away from the path of one of these things unless you like the idea of being mowed down by one.
So I was not amused find a newspaper report about an accident involving, take a deep breath, three ambulances! Little more probing with cousins and friends revealed that it is not abnormal for people to hire two, or at times three ambulances to transport one patient to the closest medical college or a similarly reputed hospital. So one ambulance will play the role of the pilot clearing traffic and another that of an escort/spare vehicle in case there is a mechanical failure (or probably an accident) to the ambulance in which the patient is being transported. Needless to say, occasionally they get rearended between themselves or end up creating and collecting more casualty ward patients on the way as life goes on normally in Kerala.
All that is alright, but it does not end there. I had the misfortune to travel from Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram by car and witnessed on-road recklessness of the highest order. To begin with an ambulance blaring horn and siren will enter the narrow national highway 47 at breakneck speed. Then those cars that give way to the ambulance start following the ambulance making maximum use of the space cleared by it. Soon a convoy of cars, two wheelers and even KSRTC buses will be storming through the highway headed by, you guess it, an ambulance! You can imagine the commotion as there are no empty stretches of road in NH47 as it is dotted by small towns brimming with pedestrians, cyclists and a whole lot of others whose daily recreation seems to be, being on the road. I have travelled quite a lot around the world and have never seen an ambulance culture of this sort.
God’s own country? I bet my last dollar that people out there are in a hurry to meet him.