Take heart as you clip on the seatbelt (or do you'). Calcutta drivers are not low on skill. All they lack is road courtesy. This comes from a top driving instructor from Singapore's Bukit Batok Driving Centre, a Honda joint venture.
Jason Lee is in town to conduct a defensive driving workshop for the staff of Johnson & Johnson (J&J), at which a couple of top cops, too, dropped by. “It is dangerous when the drivers have no fear. But that is not the case here. All the faces behind the steering wheel have fear in the eyes. They do not want accidents,” explains Lee, who was ranked fifth among contestants from 17 countries in the annual instructor's championship in Japan.
Lee, who has been to Australia, Brunei, Japan and Malaysia on training assignments, feels drivers here are handicapped by the “lacuna of traffic signs”. But that is no excuse for lacking road courtesy. “Neither drivers nor pedestrians show respect for zebra crossings. You should also have small overbridges for pedestrians at short intervals and fences between the lanes to force pedestrians to stay off the streets.”
Deputy commissioner II (traffic) Arya Chatterjee and assistant commissioner Shyamal Chakraborty dropped in during the day to check out the training. “We will prepare a proposal and submit it to the top brass so that our men can also benefit from your expertise,” they told the J&J management, that offered to share defensive driving tips.
The men in khaki were in a candid mood. While pointing out that bus drivers lack proper training, they also admitted the validity of popular complaints about the rude behaviour of traffic constables. “Our men work from 8 am to 6 pm in this heat, without any scope to take a breather. If they are not as polite as they should be at the end of the day, it is only because they are human,” they said, adding that the force required about double the personnel to have better working hours.
Lee recounted how the Singapore Police had brought down the mortality in the force to zero by focussing on defensive driving training. His most startling find on Calcutta roads: The line ‘Blow Horn’ behind buses. “Here, you do not blow the horn to warn others but to assert your presence,” he shrugs.
Lee was supervising the training in four-wheelers of the eastern region workforce. J&J had sent 16 members to undergo the defensive driving course in Singapore. They are now replicating the programme in the four metros.
“Ensuring the safety of employees is of paramount importance to us. Last year, we conducted workshops for our two-wheeler riders, and the results are already showing. The number of accidents is down appreciably. We are hoping that the training has a snowballing effect on friends and families of the employees,” said B.D. Ghoshal from Mumbai, who led the India chapter of the J&J worldwide programme.
“From this year, safe driving has been included as a criterion in our performance assessment form. Seniors are supposed to keep an eye out on driving skills of colleagues,” one of the ‘trainers’ said.