Caution: Curves ahead

Jan 02, 2013, 07:32 IST | Asha Mahadevan

The Western India Automobile Association begins its fortnight-long campaign for safer roads today

The Western India Automobile Association (WIAA) today launched the 2013 edition of its Road Safety Fortnight campaign. This year, for the first time, the Federation Internationale De L'Automobile, popularly known as the FIA, has sent a representative to the event. Ortrud Birk, Director, Public Policy and Services, FIA is in the city to advise their Indian member WIAA on road safety initiatives.

Tow me home, please: A BEST bus, wrecked in an accident, sits desolately in the middle of the road in Mulund

Said Birk, “We have 228 clubs all over the world. Most are very active in road safety. The FIA has a global initiative called Action For Road Safety.” As part of this initiative, the organisation’s representatives visit countries all over the world to help make roads safer. “We try to improve the conditions of the roads and also work for safer vehicles, drivers, passengers and pedestrians,” she said. “Of course, conditions vary from country to country and the programmes everywhere are different but the basic principles of safety are the same. We work with the local government and other powers to ensure road safety.”

Global issue
Birk said that the problem with road accidents is that it happens to everybody everywhere. Yet, it is rarely made an important matter of news. “In 2011, the United Nations launched the Decade for Road Safety but not many people are aware of it. It is also very difficult to get global numbers about accidents.

Getting edgy: A car involved in an accident balances precariously on the side of a road in Virar. Pic/Nimesh Dave 

The UN’s figures as of 2005 are that about 1.3 million deaths happen in a year. However, in many countries, only those people who die on the spot in an accident are counted as a fatality from a road accident. If a victim dies later in the hospital from injuries incurred in an accident, they are not counted in that category. And it is almost impossible to get global numbers of people who have suffered serious injuries in such accidents.” Added Nitin Dossa, Executive Chairman, WIAA, “In India, in 2011, there were 1,40,000 declared deaths. When a child turns 18 years old, they immediately want a licence and a fancy car. They learn to drive in ordinary cars, but they own high-end cars. The two cars are very different and so there are several accidents, especially on expressways.”

Event-ful campaign
In the next two weeks, the WIAA will conduct eye camps and driving lessons amongst other activities to promote safer roads. Said Dossa, “Last year, during the eye camp, we found that many participants who drive regularly failed the tests. Our doctors had to prescribe spectacles for them. These drivers were not even aware that their vision was affected.”

Safety first: Ortrud Birk. pic/neha parekh

The eye camp will continue this year too, but a few additions have been made to the event calendar. “Every year, we do improve some aspect or the other of the programme. This year, we are focussing on spreading more awareness about road discipline among school bus drivers and taxi drivers. We are going to film taxi drivers without their knowledge so that we can then show them the video and tell them what are the mistakes they make while driving. We will also educate school bus attendants on how to ensure children get down from the bus safely,” said Dossa, recalling the tragic incident in which a child was run over by her own school bus after she disembarked from it. On February 7, 2012, Zahraa Shaikh (6), was hit by her own school bus. Zahraa alighted from the bus and was waiting for her siblings to join her when the driver, unaware that the kids were still near the bus, started the bus and hit her on the head. Witnesses alleged that the driver was listening to music on headphones when the incident occurred.

One of the things that Dossa hopes to do is regulate the speed of buses. “There is a device called the governor. When installed, it ensures that the vehicle does not go beyond a particular preset speed. Installing it in buses can prevent a large number of accidents.”

No kidding
The association also plans to increase awareness among school children. “Often parents who come to drop their children on motorbikes wear helmets but don’t see to it that their children are wearing helmets too,” said Dossa. “I have seen two adults and four children on a bike too, which is extremely dangerous. Not only was nobody but the rider wearing a helmet, but in such a situation, how will the bike be properly balanced?” The WIAA has decided to distribute helmets in schools to make children understand the seriousness of riding without them. “This fortnight, we will visit two schools who have agreed to participate in the initiative. Every month from next month, we will visit five to 10 schools to spread awareness,” said Dossa. Schoolchildren can also participate in drawing cum slogan competitions on the issue of road safety (see schedule).

Conducting an initiative on road safety is a good idea, but how can you measure the impact of these campaigns? Said Birk, “It is obviously difficult to measure the impact, but we do believe that it is our role to propagate the message. If nothing is done, the number of accidents and fatalities are only going to increase.” She added that the problem of driving while texting or talking on the cellphone continues to contribute to accidents.

This afternoon, the WIAA and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan will also launch a simulator to train bus drivers. The machine, housed in the ground floor of the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC) building near Churchgate station, will be open for drivers of private and public buses to hone their skills for the next two weeks. For those who prefer to drive cars, there is a simulator for them too. With a proper car seat and three flat screens to act as the windshield and side mirrors, the simulators are meant to provide an authentic experience to the participant. As an excited Birk tried out the bus simulator, we asked if she would be coming back for next year’s campaign. “I hope to,” she laughed.

For more details, contact WIAA at 32415555

Schedule for the road safety fortnight campaign
Today: Launch of the Road Safety calendar for the year 2013, inauguration of the simulators at 2:30 pm at IMC building

January 2 to 9: Driving training for taxi drivers at WIAA office in IMC building at Churchgate,
eye check up camps at RTO Central, BEST Colaba, BMC Worli, eye check up camp for public transport drivers at Marine Drive by Dr Kulin Kothari and his team, free PUC checks

January 2 to January 13: Simulator training for BEST drivers at WIAA office,
drawing cum slogan competition on Road Safety (January 6, at 9am at Ghatkopar Children’s Park and January 13, 9 am, at Children’s Traffic Park at Cooperage) 

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