Gentlemen…Start Your Engines!

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“Automobiles are not ferocious…. it is man who is to be feared.”

~Robbins B. Stoeckel

lewis-karting_32_m-680x454As further evidence that the global economic turndown has not affected most wealthy Arab nations, give or take a couple of debt-riddled locales, a new endurance motoring activity will be taking place in Kuwait City at the end of this month (November 24-26). Courtesy of “Gulf Run”, who has brought some of the most mind-jarring motor races to the region, the newest moto-sport is called “The 26 Hour Endurance Gulf Run Karting” Race. Basically, it pits man against machine in a breathtaking 26 hours around the track to see who can withstand the endless circling, keep up pace with other drivers without crashing and go on to claim that checkered flag.

With a $4,300 price tag per team, the karting race is neither for the financially challenged nor the faint hearted. Registration is currently open for teams and the ticket price includes the use of a twin engine Honda Pro Kart for the duration of the race, spare parts, pit crew area, gas and other fluids, use of the track and access to a full-equipped medical team on site as well as the fire brigade just in case of any mishaps on the track. Teams can be made up of up to 12 drivers with a minimum of 4 drivers per team. Each team is allowed to wear their own logo emblazoned t-shirts and can even cover the car with sponsor’s decals, however such marketing efforts count as “out of pocket” costs.

Safety during the course of the event is of the utmost importance to Gulf Run organizers. The rules stipulate that all drivers must be 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license. Each driver will also be given special instructions regarding safety features, the rules and proper conduct expected during the race.  The UK Marshalls will oversee the event in accordance with current FIA regulations. Teams who ignore safety rules or intentionally interfere with the course of the race will be disqualified.

The course will be set up at the Mishref fairgrounds and a special village will be ready by race day to tend to the needs of both drivers and spectators alike. According to the Gulf Run website the 26 hour endurance race will require, “… mental and physical preparation and of course a good strategy within your team is the key to success. If you join to have fun, to do something new, or to compete professionally, it will be an amazing adventure you will never forget. See you at the track.”  Blogs and local media outlets will be covering the event, which is the first of its kind in Kuwait.

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YSR’s Death Raises Questions

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

NEW DELHI/HYDERABAD:  The sudden passing away of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (60) in a chopper crash last Wednesday (September 2) has raised intriguing questions about certain crucial issues. One is instantly forced to deliberate on loopholes present in the security actually provided to political VVIPs and apparent negligence displayed towards ensuring that helicopters used by them have no technical flaws and are capable of handling weather problems. If as initial reports indicate that the helicopter had technical problems, why was it retained in service to be used leading to Reddy’s death and of four others on board? The same helicopter had developed a technical snag earlier this year, while Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama was flying from Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) to Gulbarga in Karnataka. The Dalai Lama was told during the flight that the helicopter was experiencing technical problems. The pilot managed to land the Bell-430 chopper safely at its destination. The Dalai Lama used a different chopper on his return flight.

If the concerned aviation staff was aware of the technical problem in chopper, why was it made available for use by Reddy? The helicopter crashed over Nallamala while flying to Chittor from Hyderabad. It has also been said that chopper ran into rough weather and then crashed. This implies that the chopper may have crashed because the pilot was not given the right information about weather problems, he may have over-estimated the plane’s weather-handling capacity and/or despite being aware of these risks he took the chance, as he did not want to refuse on flying the VVIPs. The pilots face the risk of losing jobs on refusing to fly top dignitaries, even if their stand is backed by strong reasons such as bad weather.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is looking into whether the local Met office gave the correct weather report before the VVIP flight took off. The hard fact of weather being unpredictable cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, this does not minimize importance given to checking vital air safety checks of helicopters being used in India. It may be noted here that DGCA has only one part-time inspector to conduct safety checks of more than 200 helicopters deployed across the country. Even if this inspector was engaged full-time in conducting safety checks, it is certainly not a one man’s job to thoroughly inspect 200 helicopters all over the country. As it takes two days to thoroughly inspect one helicopter, it would be impossible for him to inspect all 200 helicopters even in a year’s time. Considering the new importance being given by politicians to use helicopters, isn’t it time that they paid some attention to safety of choppers they use and weather conditions. Not too long ago, an angry state chief minister ordered the transfer of a pilot simply because the latter had refused to fly the VVIP because of bad weather.

Reddy’s death has also exposed a dark side of Indian political culture once again. Though there is nothing surprising about it but one is certainly amazed at how chaotic and stormy Indian politics can get in the race for political chairs. This has been exposed with Reddy’s death being followed by confusion and political battling on who would succeed him as the chief minister. While the confusion has ended for the time being, with swearing in of Reddy’s Financial Minister K. Rosaiah as the caretaker chief minister (September 3), the political heat has not yet settled down. A new set of ministers was sworn in to form the state’s new cabinet (September 6). But the battle is still on with their being a heated campaign in favor of Reddy’s son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy as the next chief minister. A letter signed by 36 ministers in the late Reddy’s cabinet has urged Congress president Sonia Gandhi to consider him for the post. The letter said: “Just like Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Jaganmohan Reddy has a good following among the masses from grass-roots level and is acceptable to all sections, particularly the downtrodden and weaker sections, for the post of chief minister.”

Several former ministers stated that they would join the cabinet only if Jaganmohan was made the chief minister. It is pathetic that supporters of Jaganmohan have even disrupted condolence meetings being held in his father’s memory. Shouting shrill slogans they forced early end of a condolence meeting being held in Hyderabad in the presence of acting Chief Minister Rosaiah, Union Minister Jaipal Reddy and state Congress president D. Srinivas. The three leaders had to be quickly escorted to safety by security personnel as Jaganmohan’s supporters tried to mob them (September 6). Considering that Jaganmohan’s entry into Lok Sabha this year is only his first step onto the Indian political stage, one is forced to wonder whether his supporters are considering him as the “right” candidate only because he happens to be late Reddy’s son? Shouldn’t he be first given time to prove his political mantle as his father did?

Circumstances leading to Reddy’s death and the political storm over who would be next chief minister have exposed two dark sides of Indian politics. One is negligence of needed air safety measures even for political VVIPs. The second is inherent instability leading to confusion and chaos when leader at the top suddenly moves off the political stage. If entering Indian politics is being treated like a cakewalk, as Jaganmohan’s supporters seem to, it would certainly provide rivals of Congress enough political ground to rise again in the state!

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Chaos on Cairo Streets

May 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

cairo Cars on bustling Cairo streets compete with pedestrians, donkey carts, buses and motorcycles as they make their way down the ever congested and polluted roadways. And that’s in addition to sharing the street with countless other vehicles. As a result of the chaos, Egypt is ranked as 2nd in the world for traffic fatalities. According to a World Health Organization report, there were an estimated 7,000 road fatalities in Egypt last year alone. The reasons for the deaths can be chalked up to several factors such as poor driving skills by motorists, a failing infrastructure with poor roadways and a general indifference by a population who is one of the poorest in the world.

Most drivers in Egypt do not even have to pass a driver’s education course before they are licensed to hit the road. This is evident the moment you pull onto any street in Cairo. Driver’s weave in and out of traffic and get off at exits without even turning on their blinkers. Since bus stops are few and far between, buses often stop in the middle of the roadway to dispense their passengers, who just might get hit by a speeding motorist the minute they get off the bus. The speed limit is too often ignored and even traffic stoplights serve as mere road ornaments as driver after driver blow through the red lights.

Taking a look inside a typical vehicle driven by an Egyptian citizen reveals a whole new world of hazards and violations. For one thing, most seatbelts are either missing or tucked down into the seat without even a thought to their purpose being taken into consideration. The occupants of the car are jostled about unrestrained, which includes children who often use the car as an excuse to jump around and play. A children’s carseat in an Egyptian car is an unfortunate rarity. There are also countless distractions that cause the driver to keep his eyes off of the road, which includes hot beverages like tea, cell phones and the all too common cigarette balanced between fingers.

There are an estimated 4.4 million cars on Egyptian streets and the number is growing. The Egyptian government is fighting an uphill battle in combating the roadway mayhem. However, parliament has recently taken measures to punish those who break traffic safety laws and hopefully send a message to others that reckless driving is no longer acceptable. Last year a new traffic safety code was adopted in Egypt. Simple traffic transgressions, such as not yielding to pedestrians or driving in the opposite direction on a one-way street, are now punishable by jail time and a hefty fine.

The government has shrewdly turned to technology to maintain some level of road safety. Egyptian roads are now monitored by cameras, which are remotely manned by a control center that operates around the clock. A system of radars has also been established at congested intersections to catch traffic violators in the act. Policemen have also been equipped with portable digital devices to quickly issue citations. And the government plans to study traffic accident patterns to prevent future calamities.

The Ministry of Interior has also launched a media campaign to educate the public about the importance of road safety. This month the ministry plans to launch a monthly documentary about specific traffic accidents that resulted in one or more fatalities. The documentary will show viewers, up close and personal, the reason for the accident and how it could have been prevented. The ministry also plans to go a step further by interviewing family members of the deceased to see how traumatic their loss has been. The Egyptian government hopes that the programming will wake its’ populous out of their slumber to take road safety seriously.

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