With rash driving and road rage spreading like cancer, a programme is on here to teach cab drivers road safety as well as the virtues of punctuality and etiquette. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating India's loss due to road accidents at $20 billion a year, cab companies are now enrolling their drivers for the special lessons.
According to a 2010 report by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, there were 490,000 road accidents in India in 2011, of which 78 percent were blamed on drivers' faults.
These accidents killed 125,000 people, down from 2010's 134,000.
Realising the poor efficacy of awareness campaigns that "preach" more than teach, GlobalTHEN has designed an interactive, multi-media, Bollywood-style programme.
Pawan, a fictional character, plays the role of an ideal driver. Cab companies and other private firms are making a beeline for the programme.
"The main aim is to scale up the motivational level of the driver - to instill in him the sense of responsibility of his job and make him realise that his job is just as dignified as anyone else's," Ram Badrinathan, CEO and founder of GlobalTHEN, told IANS.
"Pawan Ko Kahin Dekha Kya?", as the programme is called, uses Bollywood style dialogues, songs and riddles to teach the importance of punctuality, knowledge of area, hygiene, car maintenance, etiquette and safety.
It shows how Pawan handles difficult situations, puts safety as a priority, and comes across as the ideal driver in a non-preachy manner, he added.
The programme, which rolled out in February, has trained more than 500 drivers till date. It has private cab, tourism and radio taxi companies and BPOs signing up. Government bodies have also enrolled their drivers.
Tata Motors feels that technical skills aside, the workshop is crucial in helping drivers gain confidence and respect for their job - all of which make them responsible behind the wheel.
"This programme's focussed approch on behaviour and motivation is just as important and is often neglected," G.S. Uppal of Tata Motors told IANS.
Sakshi Vij, vice president of cab company Carzonrent, added that encouraging soft skill training ultimately promotes defensive driving and thus safe driving.
"Focus on soft skills will encourage respect for traffic signal and road safety," Vij told IANS.
The programme packs six sessions with 26 activities that include drama, poetry and music.
Ravi Kumar, a driver, described the experience as thrilling.
"Bahut kuch seekhne ko mila (I learnt a lot)," he exclaimed, adding that despite not sleeping well the previous night because of night shift, he didn't realise how time flew by.
"Small things like wishing good morning or smiling and wearing clean clothes make a lot of difference in the customer's attitude and helps us earn respect for our work," added Biki, another driver.
Ravi Prakash Tyagi of travel portal Make MyTrip, which has 50 drivers enrolled and plans to sign in 125 more, added that such initiatives will help improve the quality of public transport.
"In places like Delhi and Gurgaon where cars and buses ferry thousands and thousands every day, such road safety programmes are critical," Tyagi said.
To woo local taxis, Badrinathan of GlobalTHEN said: "We are now trying to approach the taxi unions through a different medium to convince them to join the training."
India has a dubious record of having the most number of road accident deaths in the world.