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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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London lesson in taming traffic

The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, ought to be quizzed about road safety measures when he visits India in November.

Livingstone has created a congestion zone where the daily charge between 8am and 6pm is £8 (Rs 660 on Friday). Between 7am and 7pm on some roads and 24x7 on others, motorists risk a £100 fine (Rs 8,254) if they stray into the left-hand “bus lane”, which only buses and taxis may use — unlike in Calcutta, where the bus lanes have become parking bays, thanks to police inaction.

The speed limit is generally 30mph, though this can come down to 20mph. Other “traffic-calming” measures, such as bumps on the road — for some reason they are called “sleeping policemen” — reduce car speeds.

With over 3,000 road deaths a year, Britain, along with Sweden and the Netherlands, is considered the safest country in the world but the British work from the premise that one death or injury is one death or injury too many.

Transport for London, which runs a huge fleet, ensures its drivers are trained to a high degree of competence.

Ultimately, the bus driver knows he will lose his £30,000-a-year job if he is considered unreliable.

If road deaths are to be cut in Calcutta, the city will have to follow the example of the British, who have managed to reduce fatalities from over 10,000 in 1966 by two-thirds. They have been able to achieve this significant drop by improving car design, ensuring motorists first sit for a test after taking a sufficient number of lessons, introducing good lighting on roads, installing cameras to catch speed merchants and giving police strong powers to apprehend and prosecute offenders.

The punishment varies from three penalty points on the licence — 12 means disqualification and suspension of the licence — plus a £60 (Rs 4,952) fine, to prison.

Ultimately, the government realises that road safety cannot be improved unless society attaches high value to human life. So, if British experience is to be replicated, an intensive programme of public education, backed up by horrific ads on television and the rest of the media, will be necessary.

Despite the drop in fatalities on the road in the past 10 years, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has emphasised the need for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make road safety a top priority and for it to become a fundamental part of education, health and environmental policies as well as transport.

Can all this happen in Calcutta where, in response to a two-week campaign for road safety in The Telegraph, all that the transport minister does is propose a seminar on the matter'

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