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Safety-first car rally bares road ugly belly

A taxi overshoots the stop line (red arrow) on Council House Street. A policeman (right) rides pillion without a helmet on Bagbazar Main Road on Sunday. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Driving in Calcutta is an edge-of-the-seat experience: the car in front suddenly stops and takes a left without indicating or the taxi on the right zigzags through the traffic or the intrepid biker shows his gelled hair rather than a helmet on his head.

Metro trailed some of the 165 cars that participated in the 10th Kolkata on Wheels Car Treasure Hunt on Sunday morning and found, not surprisingly, how motorists who were not part of the rally consigned the drivers’ manual to the wind. The rally drivers drove on routes of their choice and earned points based on safe driving and adherence to traffic rules.

Though traffic was thinner on Sunday compared with weekdays, the rule violations weren’t. “The rules are in place to ensure safety of the citizens. A rally on road safety is a good initiative and should help the police,” the deputy commissioner of police (traffic), Dilip Adak, said.

Stop line

At almost every intersection, vehicles overshot the stop line and, in many cases, blocked the zebra crossing for pedestrians. At a crossing on Council House Street, the driver of a Toyota Altis participating in the rally stopped a good 3ft before the line but a taxi went past the mark — an offence that attracts a fine of Rs 100. At the Gairahat intersection, the zebra crossings were completely overrun by cars, autorickshaws and buses. “It’s worst on weekdays. Cops on duty do nothing,” said Ruma Roychowdhury of Cornfield Road, who walks through Gariahat every day on her way to work.

Motorists shrugged when asked why they don’t stop at the line. “Markings at several crossings have faded or are absent,” one of them said.

Illegal U-turns are common too, even when proper signage clearly indicates that a particular intersection is not free for such manoeuvres. Deputy commissioner (traffic) Adak said autos violate this rule with impunity. “We haul them up regularly,” he said.

Lane driving

Lane driving is almost nil and cars seldom turn on the indicator lights before moving left or right. “We are sometimes forced to change lanes… lane markings are missing from almost all the roads,” said trader Ronald Bhowmick, driving a Hyundai Eon near Science City.

“We impose fines (Rs 100) on motorists who forget to switch on the indicator lights,” Adak said.

Mobile phone

Speaking on cell phones while driving a car or a bike is a serious offence but the talkative Indian gives two hoots to his own safety and those of others on the road. “Bikers hide their phones inside their helmets and talk, motorists use Bluetooth devices. It’s a menace we haven’t been able to control despite slapping fines (Rs 100),” a senior police officer said.

Seat belt

From taxi drivers to pretty young things behind the wheel, everyone’s reluctant to fasten the seat belt. A young cabbie at the Shyambazar intersection said he “does wear the seat belt but today is Sunday… less cops”. Now beat that, people wear the belt to avoid getting booked and paying a fine (Rs 100) but not for their safety!

Souvik Ghosh, convenor of the “safety-first” rally, said: “The belt can keep your ribs from ramming into the steering wheel and the head from smashing against the windshield in an accident. Awareness is missing in Calcutta.”

Helmet

Helmets may save your head but ruin the hairstyle! Reason enough not to wear one. Even the cops probably take it easy because a traffic sergeant was zipping down Bagbazar Main Road with a constable without a helmet as pillion. Bikers are supposed to wear covered shoes too. But 70 per cent of them were in sandals on Sunday.