From trucks and cabs to heavy duty cranes and road rollers, 28-year-old Poonam Negi drives all kinds of vehicles in the high hills of Himachal Pradesh, including her home district of Kinnaur where the cliff-hanging roads are known to be one of the most challenging drives in the country.
On Monday, Negi was among the two woman drivers felicitated by Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur during a function held to kickstart the National Road Safety Month at the Ridge Maidan in Shimla. Negi said she drives a tour and travel taxi and also runs a driving school in Rampur. Five years ago, she got herself a licence to drive heavy vehicles, and now drives trucks and earth-moving vehicles for various purposes.
The other awardee, Seema Thakur, 30, was the first woman driver to be hired by the Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC). She learnt to drive from her father, also an HRTC employee, and has been driving buses for corporation on the Shimla-Solan-Chandigarh route for the last four years.
“Earlier, women were generally known to drive small vehicles but it is clear now that they are also driving buses and trucks in tough mountainous terrain,” said Thakur. He made an online transfer of Rs 7,500 each to the accounts of the two women. He added that among the 12 lakh driving licence holders in the state, 82,325 are women.
‘Show humanity – save lives of humans and animals’
The CM appealed to the public to act as good samaritans during road accidents and help save the lives of injured victims. Because people were hesitant to help accident victims fearing legal entanglements, the central government included a special provision in the Motor Vehicle Act to protect the rights of good samaritans, and they need not join the police investigation or reveal their personal information, he said.
He said that bystanders who neglect injured accident victims have lost their human perspective despite being called humans. “Even if an animal is injured in a traffic-related accident, we must rush to save it because that is what humanity means,” he said.
Three persons – Manmohan from Kalpa, Rai Singh from Paonta, and Rajender Kumar from Arki – were awarded Rs 7,500 each for helping road accident victims.
Thakur asked the public works department to minimise the possibility of accidents by identifying vulnerable spots as soon as a road is built. “Do not wait for an accident to occur to mark an area as a black spot. Instead, before the road becomes functional, find out all such spots and blind curves which may be dangerous, and rectify them,” he said.
Each year, Himachal sees around 3,000 accidents on an average resulting in the death of 1,200 people, according to the state police. In 2020, there was a 20 per cent decrease in the number of accidents and fatalities. In the hill state, accidents related to vehicles veering off the road and rolling down the mountain are common, often leading to multiple deaths and injuries in a single incident.
Transport Minister Bikram Singh said the departments of transport and public works need to work in better coordination to mitigate accidents. The state government is trying to promote the use of electric vehicles in the state to reduce air pollution, he said.
During the event, artistes performed several plays at the Ridge to encourage people to follow road safety rules. Later, a cycle rally and a publicity van were also flagged off as part of the road safety campaign.