‘Safe Drive Save Life’: four omnipresent words in the state of West Bengal have for all practical purposes become traffic jargon in themselves. From signs, banners, hoardings and kiosks to television and radio advertisements, these four words have become an integral cog of the popular culture. But what exactly do these words mean? Has ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ been successful in making city roads safer? In this issue of Kolkata on WHEELS, let us find out what ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ has managed to achieve and what’s still desired.
The ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ campaign was launched on 8th July 2016 by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with the aim to ensure road safety for everyone. To impact the road culture of the city and to change the on-road behaviour for a better urban experience, West Bengal Police and Kolkata Police joined hands with Karmyog Foundation- an NGO, to implement the project.
The entire campaign under “Safe Drive Save Life” aims to improve relationships among four major stakeholders of the road – the police, drivers, passengers and pedestrians – through mass education and mass media for developing a better road culture in West Bengal.
While the psychological motivation provided along with the learning experience aims at a large-scale behavioural change that is truly laudable, there seems to be a dearth of actual driving instructions for safe driving beyond the set curriculum.
As a part of the educational campaign, children aged 8-18 were targeted from both private and government schools. To bring about a change in behaviour, classes were designed as interactive experiments with audio-visual aids and open-ended assignments that encouraged the children to hone their creative talents. As of 27th July 2017, 84,851 children from 329 schools had been initiated into the campaign.
Along with children, the campaign also includes a general educational module for professional drivers. The 25 traffic guards in the city were converted into ‘learning clubs’ where select Kolkata Police officials were engaged in taking classes designed by Karmyog. The curriculum is divided into twelve modules which includes knowledge (gyan), skills (kaushal) and practice tips (sadhna) on topics such as over-speeding, defensive driving, drunken driving and vehicle maintenance, and also on life-topics such as de-addiction, alertness, personal hygiene, etc. These classes are interactive and imparted with audio-visual aids to enhance the learning experience for the drivers. As of 27th July 2017, 51,603 drivers had been enrolled into these learning clubs spread over the 25 traffic guards in the city. According to the statistics provided by Karmyog to Team WHEELS, Auto, Taxi and Bus drivers figured prominently amongst the total enrolled drivers.
COMMENDABLE POLICE ENFORCEMENT
Team WHEELS observes that it is the stricter enforcement of existing traffic rules by Kolkata Traffic Police and not exactly the campaign that has brought down the number of road accident fatalities from 450 in 2014 to 329 in 2017.
Kolkata Traffic Police have not only been successful in reinforcing the vital safety measures but the unabated illegal bike racings which led to heavy casualties for road users has also been significantly controlled. Moreover, the police have been able to effectively enforce the habit of using the seat belt and observing speed regulations, as well as raising awareness about drunken driving. These measures, along with CCTV camera surveillance and the App-based management of Kolkata Police have been greatly effective in bringing down the number of road accidents. Whether this commendable achievement is actually a result of the ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ campaign or of direct police enforcement of the existing traffic rules is a matter of introspection.
Jurisdiction: Kolkata Traffic Police
Year No. of Fatalities
LACK OF SPECIFIC RULES
Since its launch in 2016, it has been observed that the ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ campaign does not have a specific set of safety rules for car drivers to follow beyond the matters of seat belt, drunken driving, mobile conversation and slow driving. Though the ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ banners and hoardings are widely visible, specific rules set as per target groups are missing. Simply telling the drivers to ‘drive safely’ is unlikely to cut the ice unless they know the safe driving techniques. It is learnt that beyond the common inputs, nothing is imparted through the campaign. Though a ‘Training Manual for Drivers’ has been published by the Transport Department of the State Government in collaboration with Indian Institute of Technology Kharagapur, the rules have not actually been disseminated amongst the motorists.
VITAL SAFETY RULES FOR MOTORISTS
In the absence of any specific set of safety rules under the ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ mission, Team WHEELS compiled a comprehensive set of safety rules for private motorists including the most common ones propagated by the campaign.
1 PRELIMINARY CHECKS
The air pressure of tyres should be checked before undertaking any drive. Tyre bursts are common at high speed, throwing the vehicle out of control. The standard air pressure of tyres as recommended by the tyre company should be checked at regular intervals. The air pressure should not be reduced to manage tyre inflation on long drives. Tyres while being manufactured are built to sustain inflation to a very high extent. Instead, low air pressure in tyres would make them susceptible to damage or cuts over long-distance rolling.
The tyre condition and tread depths should also be observed before one takes his vehicle on a long drive on the highway. Wheel alignment and balancing should also preferably be done which reduces the risk of tyre damage due to high speed spinning over long distances.
Before you embark on a long drive, the condition of the brake, lubricants, coolants, lights and wipers should also be checked.
2 FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT
Most motorists feel that wearing the seatbelt is bothersome and useless. Interestingly, they wear it to escape paying traffic penalties and not to save their dear lives! In reality, in case of a crash, the motorists without seatbelts hit the dashboard or windscreen or are thrown out of the vehicle sustaining severe injuries or facing death.
Motorists have not yet developed the habit of buckling up. Though the law in India requires seatbelts only for the front seat passengers, it is safer for all passengers in the vehicle to put on seatbelts, especially on highways.
Wear the shoulder strap over your shoulder, never under your arm or behind your back. The lap belt should be worn low over the hips and not against the stomach.
You never know when an accident might occur and it may be the seatbelt that makes all the difference between you being dead or alive.
3 DEFENSIVE DRIVING
Defensive driving is the anticipation of situations or factors that can possibly lead to accidents, and driving the car in a manner that would help you stay safe.
Defensive driving is based on three ideas: visibility, space and communication.
Visibility: Visibility is about seeing and being seen. You should always be aware of the traffic in front of you, behind and beside. Keep your eyes constantly moving, scanning the road ahead and to the side and checking your mirrors. The farther ahead you look, the less likely you are to be surprised, and you will have time to avoid any hazard. Make sure other drivers can see you by using your signal lights as well.
Space: Managing the space around your vehicle lets you see and be seen and gives you time and space to avoid a collision. Leave a cushion of space ahead, behind and to both sides. The greatest risk of a collision is in front of you, so stay well back.
Communication: Communicate with other road users to make sure they see you and know what you are doing. Signal whenever you want to slow down, stop, turn or change lanes. If you need to get another person’s attention, use your horn.
4 LANE DISCIPLINE
The majority of motorists in India are clueless about the correct lane to drive on. The main cause for accidents on Indian highways is perhaps driving in the wrong lane and forcing the other vehicles to overtake from the left. With new-generation highways coming up all over the country, the need to follow lane discipline has become imperative.
6-Lane Highway (3 lanes up + 3 lanes down): As a highway rule, in a 6-lane dual carriageway (3 lanes up + 3 lanes down with a median), the leftmost lane is meant for slow-moving vehicles such as loaded trucks. The middle lane is for the faster light motor vehicles. The extreme right lane is meant only for overtaking and not for continuous driving and thus should be kept free.
4-Lane Highway (2 lanes up + 2 lanes down): On a 4-lane highway (2 lanes up + 2 lanes down), one should stay on the leftmost lane and move on to the right lane to overtake the vehicle in front. After overtaking, one should again come back to the left lane.
Contrary to the rule, we see the reverse in India when it comes to lane discipline on highways. The heavy slow-moving vehicles drive on the rightmost lane blocking the faster vehicles which are supposed to overtake from the right.
However, if you are forced to overtake from the left, do so very carefully. Put on your left indicator to signal your intention, check vehicles on your rear view mirrors and keep enough space from the vehicle you overtake.
4-Lane Road (2 lanes up + 2 lanes down):
6-Lane Road (3 lanes up + 3 lanes down)
Remember to turn your signals on at least 20 metres before changing lanes or turning.
Do not weave in-between lanes or change lanes unnecessarily whilst in fast traffic.
5 KEEP SAFE FOLLOWING DISTANCE
Most Indian motorists are unaware of the safe following distance between two cars. The safety distance should be 1 car for every 15 km per hour of speed. Say, if you are driving at 60 km per hour, the safe following distance should be at least 4-car distance. The distance should double in wet conditions. This will help you to slow down or stop your vehicle in case the vehicle ahead suddenly changes its course or applies brakes.
6 SHARING ROAD WITH LARGE COMMERCIAL VEHICLES
It is extremely important to know how to be safe when sharing the road with large commercial vehicles such as trucks, trailers and buses. Recent data show that the majority of fatalities result from collisions involving large commercial trucks. Be aware of a large vehicle’s capabilities and limitations, such as the following:
Blind Spots – Large commercial vehicles have sizeable blind spots on both sides. Avoid tailgating a large vehicle. The driver cannot see you if you are directly behind. If the vehicle stops suddenly, you would have no place to go. Remember that if you can’t see the driver’s face in the large vehicle’s side-view mirror, the driver cannot see you.
Stopping Distance – Large commercial vehicles require a much longer distance to stop than smaller vehicles. When passing a large vehicle, do not cut in front closely. Not only is this discourteous, it is dangerous; it reduces the space cushion large vehicles require in order to stop safely. Allow more room when passing a large vehicle.
Wide Turns – When making a left turn, a large vehicle may need to first swing wide to the right and around, in order to avoid hitting the left curb. If a large vehicle in front of you is making a right turn, do not move up into the space that opens up in the left; you will put yourself in a very dangerous position. Once the front of the vehicle has cleared the corner, the rest will move partially back into the left lane. If you are in that lane, your vehicle will be squeezed between the trailer and the curb. Stay well back until the truck has completely cleared the lane.
Rolling Back – Leave plenty of room if you are stopped behind a large vehicle. When the driver of a large vehicle releases the brakes after being stopped, the vehicle may roll back.
Turbulence – Due to various factors such as air pressure and airflow, a large vehicle can create heavy air turbulence. This may affect your ability to control your vehicle when passing a large vehicle.
Back Lights – The back lights and brake lights of heavy vehicles are often not working. Assess its speed and position before maneuvering your car.
7 UNCONTROLLED INTERSECTIONS
Uncontrolled intersections have no signs or traffic lights. Do not presume that there is no vehicle at the crossroad; instead be extra careful around these intersections. Always slow down; preferably halt, while approaching such crossings.
If two vehicles come to an uncontrolled intersection from different roads at the same time, the driver on the left must let the driver on the right go first. This is called yielding the right-of-way.
8 DON’T DRINK & DRIVE
Drinking alcohol on long drives is dangerous. Driving requires a high level of attentiveness over a long period of time which is affected by alcohol. Alcohol retards concentration, makes one sleepy and affects the judgment of drivers. Highway driving at high speed requires tremendous focus throughout the journey and alcohol is an absolute deterrent. Those who drink and drive to have fun are mostly novices on highways who are susceptible to accidents and are a menace to all.
However, if you had a drink, a minimum time gap of 3 hours is required before you get behind the wheel.
9 AGGRESSIVE DRIVING AND ROAD RAGE
Aggressive driving behaviour, such as tailgating, speeding and cutting in ahead of someone too closely, may cause other drivers to become frustrated and angry and lead to a road-rage conflict between drivers. An angry driver may attempt dangerous retaliatory action. Avoid losing temper on the road for your own good. Don’t try to ‘educate’ the other driver or show him down – he is a complete stranger and it would yield no result. Be smart and keep away from erratic and rogue drivers.
One must have adequate sleep before going on a long drive. Drowsiness or falling asleep is a major cause of accidents on highways. The symptoms are yawning and being less responsive.
Put down the windows if you are feeling sleepy and get a gust of fresh air on your face to freshen up. Turn on the music system or try and sing (never mind the others).
Always avoid driving when you are feeling drowsy. Do not take any chance – you may fall asleep without actually being aware of it. If you are continuously yawning and feeling sleepy, immediately pull off the road to break the journey. On highways, park your vehicle near a dhaba or truck bay. Lock your doors from inside, roll up your windows keeping a small opening and take a nap for an hour or so.
If you are unable to afford the sleep, take a break at the least. Get out of the car and walk around nearby. Have tea or refreshments before you resume driving.
Of course, if there’s someone in the car who can drive, nothing like giving over the wheel to him or her without delay. Others in the vehicle, mainly the passenger sitting beside the driver, needs to be alert and awake. He should keep the driver engaged in light conversation and watch the driver’s eyes from time to time.
11 DISTRACTIONS ON HIGH SPEED
Highway driving needs focus on the road ahead. One should never fully turn his head while driving. Passengers should also abstain from drawing the driver’s attention or vision.
Attending to cell phones or texting while driving is dangerous. Should it be very important to receive a call, one has to slow down and stop on the extreme left lane with the blinkers on and then use the phone. Any distraction of vision or mind is dangerous on highways. Even very loud music should not be played which deters one from registering honks from overtaking vehicles or observing abnormal sound produced by one’s own car.
12 GUARD RAILS ON THOROUGHFARES
There are unmanned chicanes or guard rails on highways, often without any warning. Though the administration puts these roadblocks to slow down the traffic at certain spots, these guard rails actually pose threats to the motorists in the middle of a thoroughfare. The danger increases at night when visibility drops. Since there is no rationale behind positioning these roadblocks, be careful while overtaking.
On highways, it is very difficult to assess a stationary vehicle or the speed of other vehicles in front in order to decide upon manoeuvers. Police patrols often stop commercial vehicles unexpectedly in the middle of highways, posing a danger to the traffic behind. Such action by the police in the middle of highways is a major threat that should be avoided to save lives.
13 LOW SPEED INDICATIONS ON HIGHWAY
Slow down and be careful for a few kilometers in stretches which have ‘Drive Slow’ or low ‘Speed Limit’ boards. It signifies an accident prone zone or a village crossover. Local pedestrians, cattle or two-wheelers may sneak in across the highway from nowhere.
14 INEXPERIENCED CHAUFFEURS
Do not leave yourself and your vehicle at the mercy of an inexperienced driver. Also, if you are taking a car on rent for a long drive, check its tyre condition and insist on an experienced driver who regularly drives on highways. Commercial drivers are sometimes overworked and cause accidents. Try to restrain their tendency to speed and keep a watch to control their actions to ensure you return home safely.
15 PEDESTRIANS’ BEHAVIOUR
Nothing can be as unpredictable as a pedestrian. So while driving, be careful and watch out for unforseen circumstances.
The expansive ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ campaign should include educating drivers on all these driving rules. Perhaps, as part of the campaign, the huge number of signboards that carry the ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ message could be better replaced by displaying specific safety rules, as per the requirement of a location and the audience targeted.