The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Safety drill, deadly roads

Killer wheels have claimed 22 lives on the city streets this February, raising grave doubts about the effectiveness of the road-safety measures undertaken by Calcutta Police.

About a year-and-a-half ago, the traffic department, under then deputy commissioner of police M. K. Singh, had initiated a novel drive.

An undercover police officer, seated beside the driver of a private bus, would take note of all the mistakes committed by the man at the wheel and by pedestrians throughout the journey.

Analysing the observations, specific plans to avert accidents would be chalked out, Singh had announced.

But soon after the drive was launched, he was transferred and the notebooks maintained by undercover officers were dumped.

The traffic department has, over the past few years, undertaken similar drives, ranging from the standard traffic-safety-week to the counselling of rogue drivers, but the death toll keeps rising.

At least four awareness drives took off last year, at a cost of Rs 5 lakh, targeting jaywalkers as well as rash drivers.

But motorists continue to flout traffic rules with impunity, bus drivers still engage in races of death (one that claimed the life of little Sourav Das on the Lake Gardens flyover on Thursday), and pedestrians hardly ever use zebra crossings or footbridges.

'All these campaigns are bringing about changes, albeit slowly. As far as rash driving is concerned, there is a flaw in the system followed by the bus operators ' most drivers are reckless because of the commission system, which is beyond our control,' Banibrata Basu, special additional commissioner of police (traffic), said on Thursday .

Sadhan Das, general secretary of the Joint Council of Bus Syndicates, also blamed the competitive edge among drivers on the overlapping of bus routes: 'There are about 85 routes in Calcutta, and 40 per cent of them overlap.'

Justifying the string of traffic-safety programmes, Arun Kumar Sharma, deputy commissioner (traffic), said: 'We cannot expect a sudden change in the attitude of people. The whole point is to educate them about road safety for their own sake.'

On an average, Calcutta Police spends Rs 7 lakh a year on road-safety campaigns.

There are more than nine lakh four-wheelers in the city, with an annual rise of 15 per cent, plying on 1,404 km of road length. Annually, more than 500 driving licences are suspended, and around 10 per cent of those revoked, while total traffic violations are pegged at 40,000-plus.

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