Two of the earliest driving instructions given to this writer were diametrically opposite. The first instruction was to assume that while on the road, everybody except yours truly was blind, half-blind or colour-blind. The lesson: you had to be cautious.
The second instruction was that no matter what you did or did not, accidents were inevitable. If you drove fast, the instructor had intoned, you were likely to ram into others. But if you drove slowly, others would ram into you. The lesson: you had a choice.
Bad driving actually indicates a host of maladies. For example, it would indicate poor policing. It could also indicate poor road signs, bad roads or the existence of other bad drivers who provoke you into acts of madness.
Calcutta must rank rather low if one takes into account the display of traffic and road signs, making the city a nightmare for new residents and people who drive in from outside. Reflective or fluorescent signs are rare, that is if there is one, which makes driving at night so much more difficult.
Traffic signs about U-turns and one-ways are tucked away in inconspicuous corners and at uneven heights, making city roads rather unfriendly and encouraging bad driving.
The last few years in this city have convinced this writer that all vehicles should have a mandatory message to remind drivers that while it is nice to know that they enjoy driving, they surely would not like to drive people crazy. We must keep our fingers crossed and wait for some automobile-maker or agency to rank cities on driving skills and quality.
There are drivers who do their window-shopping while driving. Too busy craning their neck to the left or the right, they have no time to look into the rear-view mirror as they slow down, accelerate and then slow down again. If you have the misfortune to have fallen behind them, and if you are not smart enough to change your lane, you can do nothing better than gnash your teeth. Most of the drivers use the rear-view mirror to look at themselves and not the space behind them.
Then there are those who want to turn into a street to the right but insist on driving on the left lane till the last minute and then swerve merrily or nervously, depending on the luck of motorists following them. Buses in this city often come to a dead stop right in the middle of the road, giving little or no advance warning. Overtaking from the left, sometimes to take a sharp U-turn, using headlights on high beam and using their horns as if their lives depended on them are some of the other ‘rules of the road’ here, which make driving difficult.
There are reasons to believe that there has been a sharp increase in road accidents. The non-fatal accidents are, of course, never reported, though they can set you back by ten or twenty thousand rupees and six weeks in a plaster.
There would have been more accidents too, but for the slowing down of traffic. In both New York and London, not to speak of Los Angeles, there are stretches where vehicles crawl at eight to 10 miles per hour.
Ironically, this must have been the speed at which horse-drawn carriages crawled on Chowringhee at the turn of the last century.
We would like to suggest a simple enough exercise to check bad or rash driving. Let the public vehicles department (PVD) invite volunteers to travel incognito in buses and file a comprehensive report on traffic violations by the driver. Rather than allow a sergeant to stop the bus at a static point, it would make more sense to record driving behaviour over a longer period. Based on these reports, PVD inspectors can then zero in and record the quality of driving and traffic violations by the drivers concerned.
Random and anonymous checks, with a prominent citizen as witness, could result in reports recommending fines, suspension or cancellation of licence. People driving private cars, too, should be asked to get their driving certified once every year by approved and qualified instructors, who could be paid a fee by car-owners.
The police, in turn, could identify and honour good drivers and publicise a random list of bad drivers during the road safety week.
Tailpiece: A Google search yielded 7,93,000 entries on ‘driving lessons’, 142,000 sites on ‘driving jokes’ and 2,320,000 sites on ‘bad driving’. Hope you enjoy the search more than driving down Calcutta roads.