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Don’t drink and drive

We’ve read the 12 page report on “Reducing Drinking and Driving in Europe” by the European Commission — a sort of benchmark in sorting your way through the problem of alcohol-related traffic accidents.

But it doesn’t take a report to tell you this: if you drink and drive, someday, somewhere, someone, is bound to die in a tragic, unnecessary accident. With the year-end coming up, we are going to see some of these tragedies unfold. For many families in Bangalore, New Year will not be happy — because they would have lost a near and dear one to drunken driving. The real heartbreak is here: Every single death (and injury) caused by drunk driving is 100% preventable.

A couple of days ago, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Bangalore, Praveen Sood, helped launch a drive with Radio One, a local FM station, to beat the fatal numbers. Sood, ever practical and down-to-earth, said that he did not want to preach or prevent anyone from partying hard. But, he remarked with a grin, he wanted them to be around next year to party.

So, the two of them (Praveen Sood and Radio One) have teamed up with EasyCabs to launch a simple initiative for the holiday season. For the next three months, EasyCabs will keep two cabs at 12 nightclubs (the locations are to be rotated). Those who feel they will not be able to drive back home can use the cab free of cost. Fundamentally, as the head of the radio station is fond of saying, “You drink, we’ll drive.” Finally, the idea is to save lives.

But more important is the message that the initiative helps spread: drink responsibly. No one likes to stumble disgracefully into a free cab; being tested for alcohol on the streets is not only unpleasant and disgusting, it is quite demeaning. If you test positive for alcohol, your license gets impounded, you have to leave behind your vehicle and visit a court to pay a fine and recover your vehicle. And we haven’t even got around to the inconvenience of finding an alternative means of transport home.

According to Sood, the traffic department has collected around Rs35 crore in fines this year. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation he did for DNA shows that about Rs3 crore would have been from fines for drunken driving. Sood says he is not proud of the fines filling up his coffers — they reflect the callous, uncaring, rash and negligent nature of the city.

And, according to his own estimate, the Rs3 crore covers barely 5% of the people on the road who were actually driving under the influence of excessive alcohol (the rest could not be detected and apprehended). Believe us: it’s murderous on the streets, and you could get killed for no reason bigger than the third peg of a drink.

In 2001, Bangalore had 9,026 accidents in which 703 people were killed; in 2008, the number of accidents went up to 7,772 and 864 were killed. So, while the accidents went down, the fatalities went up. Until October 2009, of the 5,711 accidents only 602 have been killed. It does look like Bangalore is becoming safer (it must, however, be noted that not all the deaths can be attributed to drunken driving).

We suspect that there is an ironic reason for the drop in accidents: The increased number of vehicles on the streets and the congestion that has slowed down average speeds to 15 kmph in the city at peak hours (from a traffic police study). Today, we have 34,77,707 vehicles on the roads with an annual growth rate of about 7 to 10%. That 15 kmph is going to come down to 12 kmph very shortly. But that’s a nasty — and not even a surefire — way to make the streets safer.

Another reason for the drop in accidents could be that the traffic police is better equipped than it ever was before — they have 5 enforcement cameras (of course, hopelessly short of actual requirement), 160 surveillance cameras, 9 surprise inceptors (fine collected thanks to interceptors: Rs163,87,000), 50 variable message signboards, blackberries and a host of technological solutions to help access real time data on vehicles and drivers.

Discouraging and severely punishing impaired driving as a result of alcohol is the real answer: from the administration point of view, visible checkpoints to verify impaired driving are a deterrent and a convincing threat; from a social point of view, marking a license plate to indicate that the owner has someone in the family whose driving history includes an alcohol offence may work as a deterrent; but more than anything else, your personal commitment to never condone or approve excessive alcohol will prevent the root cause of the problem — it won’t let a drunk driver out into the street.

source: Daily News & Analysis

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