The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Calamity call for road safety
- Drive to check cell phone use at the wheel

A calamity tone is ringing on the city streets ' the kind that prompts drivers to take their hand off the steering wheel and their mind off the road ahead.

On Monday morning, the driver of a red-light car in Salt Lake had knocked down three pedestrians, killing one and injuring two. He was talking on the cell phone while driving down Third Avenue, close to the residence of former chief minister Jyoti Basu.

Police on Tuesday claimed to have identified the car, traced the owner and the driver, but refused to divulge details like who was in the VIP car at the time of the accident.

'It appears that the vehicle belonged to the directorate of Dairy Development Corporation. We have found the driver, but it's still too early to comment on anything, since interrogation is on,' said Parveen Kumar, superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas.

But the recklessness of the red-light car revolves around the driver being on the cell phone.

And going by police figures, he is certainly not the only man at the wheel who doesn't miss a beep while responding to a ring on his cell phone, so what if that jeopardises the lives of those on the road or in the car.

Cell phone statistics tell a chilling story even without capturing the full picture. Till November 2004, 1,230 drivers have been booked on city streets for driving while talking on their cell phones.

All of them were booked under Section 218 of the West Bengal Motor Vehicle Rules (1989) and allowed to get back behind the wheel on paying a fine of just Rs 100.

Every day, around 7.5 lakh cars hit the city roads and of these, around 100 drivers are booked every month for driving while on their mobile phones. So, many others get away doing just that.

'If you go by the overall figure of 48,000 bookings by the traffic department, the number booked under this clause is not that significant. But it's still an indication of how big the problem is,' pointed out Banibrata Basu, joint commissioner of police (traffic).

'The problem lies in the amount; Rs 100 is hardly a deterrent. But if that has been specified in the law, there is little one can do about it,' rued the joint commissioner.

Officers claim most of the bookings under the cell phone clause have been recorded in prime spots like Park Street, Shakespeare Sarani, Gariahat Road and Lansdowne Road.

And most, revealed sergeants, are not aware that talking on the cell phone while driving ' even with a hands-free device ' is a punishable offence.

Monday's mishap is set to ring in a few changes. A special drive will be launched by sergeants against cell phone-using drivers at some vital intersections around town.

Glosign banners will also be put up at some of the most accident-prone junctions, dissuading drivers from being at the wheel and taking on the cell phone, simultaneously.

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