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Road Deaths Up Last Year, Numbers Likely to Rise

The number of fatalities from traffic accidents on Cambodia’s roads increased by just seven in 2013, according to data released Thursday, but traffic safety groups said the actual figure is likely to be higher.

The number of deaths countrywide as a result of traffic accidents from November 11, 2012, to November 10, 2013, was 1,901, compared to 1,894 during the same period between 2011 and 2012, said Preap Chanvibol, director of land transportation at the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation.

While the number of deaths increased by just seven, the total number of accidents also increased by just 17 from 4,305 cases to 4,322, while the total number of severe injuries decreased by 183 from 4,338 in 2012 to 4,205, according to the ministry’s figures, which were provided by the traffic police.

Cheav Hak, chief of Phnom Penh traffic police, confirmed the police numbers.

“The total increase in deaths is only seven…this is the figure we totaled. It’s not a lot compared to last year,” he said.

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72% of Road “Accidents” in Maharashtra Involve Youths

MUMBAi: Nearly 72% of those involved in road accidents in the state are in the age group of 20-40 years and 85% of the injured are maimed for life, highway police said.

State additional director-general of police (highways) Vijay Kamble said road accidents were “extremely distressing” for family members of victims as most of those maimed were the bread-winners. Speaking at the inauguration of the Road Safety Fortnight, he said, “Road accident is the state’s eighth highest killer. If we do not create awareness on road safety and fail to take precautionary measures, it may become the fifth highest cause of death in the state by 2030.” He said countries like Malaysia and Indonesia had taken several measures in the last few years to drastically reduce road fatalities. “The US has more than double the number of cars as India, but there are fewer accidents. Even China has reduced road fatalities,” he said.

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57 Road “Accidents” Due to Drink Drivers in First 10 Months

Abu Dhabi: During the first 10 months of last year, 57 road accidents resulting in three deaths took place as a result of drink driving, while another 219 accidents happened during 2010-2013 causing 23 deaths, the Abu Dhabi Police announced on Monday.

Officials also revealed that the authorities are dealing very strictly with those caught driving under the influence of alcohol or any narcotics. Violating motorists will have their vehicles confiscated for two months, their licences revoked and will face legal action.

Brigadier Engineer Hussain Ahmad Al Harthi, director of Traffic and Patrol Directorate at Abu Dhabi Police, advised parents to be wary of their children’s friends who may have a negative effect on them. The official also noted that a larger number of patrols monitoring the capital’s internal and external roads in a bid to catch those under the influence of illegal substances will be set up as part of the Abu Dhabi Police’s efforts to reduce road deaths and injuries.

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Road “Accidents” Claimed 644 Lives in City Last Year

While lives lost to terrorism and militancy dominate news regarding Karachi, data compiled by the Edhi Foundation reveals that a startlingly large number of people were also killed in road accidents in 2013.

According to the compiled statistics, 644 people were killed and 7,641 injured in mishaps over the year. The month of August proved to be the deadliest, with 99 deaths and 865 injuries, followed by November with 61 reported deaths and 422 injuries.

A monthly breakdown shows that 51 people were killed and 732 injured in January, 45 killed and 663 injured in February, 64 killed and 706 injured in March, while 35 people died and 599 were injured in April.

In May, 36 people were killed and 617 injured in road accidents, 50 killed and 583 injured in June, 53 killed and 671 injured in July, 55 killed and 493 injured in September, 45 were killed and 689 injured in October, while 41 deaths and 710 injuries were reported in December

Furthermore, the data reveals that a majority of the fatalities were reported near the Sharea Faisal and Saddar areas.

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Kenya: PSV’s Brace for Stringent Rules to Boost Road Safety

KENYA’S public transport service is set for a major overhaul following the impending implementation of new regulations by the Transport and Safety Authority Board. The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure has prepared a raft of regulations, signed by Transport Secretary Michael Kamau on December 16.

The regulations will be launched on February 1 and are perceived to be stringent than the famous Michuki laws. They contain stiffer penalties aimed at tackling high cases of road accidents. The regulations will replace laws introduced by the late John Michuki in 2004 when he served as Transport Minister.

The night ban travel by public service vehicles is part of the regulations. The directives contained in legal notice 219 sets strict rules aimed at taming the PSV’s that have been blamed for a spate of fatal accidents on Kenya’s highways especially during the festive season.

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JN Donates Millions to Aid Prevention of Violent, Road Traffic Injuires

The project, which is in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the Violence Prevention Alliance and Mona GeoInformatics, will, among other things, seek to chart and analyse the burden of violence and motor vehicle-related injuries on hospital services across the island, with emphasis on the UHWI.

Additionally, the mapping will identify geographic areas which have a higher concentration of incidents to allow for prevention programmes to target those specific areas.

The trends collated will be based on hospital injury data over a five-year period, between 2005 and 2009; and the survey will also provide a profile of injuries by age, gender, nature and location of injury incidence.

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One Death in Every 10 Road “Accident” in Sultanate

Muscat: Twelve per cent of the road accidents in the Sultanate turn out to be fatal, an average of one death in every 10 road accidents, according to the recent statistics released by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).

The annual statistics covered the period till the end of November 2013. During this period, 6,600 road accidents were recorded resulting in 823 fatalities and 9,081 injuries, compared to 7,529 accidents which resulted in 1,059 fatalities and 10,737 injuries during the period from January to November 2012.

When compared to the 2012 figures, road accidents in Oman recorded an annual decrease of 12.3 per cent, while the death toll from accidents also recorded a decrease of 22.3 per cent.

Statistics also reveal that most of the dead were men, with 702 deaths (85.3 per cent), compared to 121 women (14.7 per cent).

The NCSI statistics also revealed that new vehicle registrations until the end of November 2013 witnessed a decline of 6.5 per cent. A total of 119,526 new vehicles were registered compared to 127,784 vehicles registered during the same period in 2012.

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Traffic Police Bat for Road Safety

GURGAON: As part of its annual weeklong campaign on road safety, the city’s traffic police have come out with a unique series of events focusing on different aspects of safety.

The campaign will kick off on January 11 with the overall theme of ‘When on the road, always say “Pehle Aap”‘, and promoting safe driving in Gurgaon. “Each day will be devoted to one feature of safe driving, for instance, January 11 will be promoted as ‘No Honking Day’ and another feature will be for the subsequent days during the campaign,” said Bharti Arora, JCP, traffic police.

According to the plan, January 12 will be promoted as a ‘Don’t Drink and Drive Day’, while the 13th and 14th January 14 will be ‘Lane Driving Day’ and ‘No Over Speeding Day’. January 15 will be ‘Helmet Day’ and the next being ‘Seat Belt Day’ while ‘Respect the Red Light Day’ will round off the campaign.

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On-the-Spot Counselling for Road Users

MYSORE: The city traffic cops are going all out to realize their goal of bringing in road discipline and making city roads safer. After initiating strict measures to implement the traffic rules by penalizing the violators, cops are now focusing on educating the violators. They strongly believe in making roadusers realize their responsibility too.

In a novel initiative, police have started counselling rule violators on the spot instead of booking them for violation. So far, hundreds of roadusers —pedestrians, two-wheeler users, auto drivers, car drivers and heavy vehicle drivers — have been advised to help cops in making the city roads safer by following the rules.

D Shivanna, head constable, on Wednesday, educated scores of roadusers during different sessions near Nazarbad police station circle. He said: “We are asking all roadusers to help accident victims and also telling them not to run away from the spot if they are responsible for an accident. We will have a little time – the golden hour — to save the accident victims and if we miss the opportunity there is every possibility the injured may die. We have also assured them that police will not book cases if they help victims.”

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Dozen Children Among 17 Injured in Road Mishaps

JAMMU/POONCH, Jan 9: At-least dozen students were injured when a school minibus turned turtle at Langate Morh near Sar Khad area of Kathua district while four cops among five people were injured in car-bus collision at Bainch village of Poonch.

Police reports said that at-least dozen students were injured, one of them critically, when a school minibus turned turtle at Langate Morh near Sar Khad area of Kathua district, this morning. The ill-fated minibus bearing registration number JK02E-8780 carrying students of Army School from villages Bhudhi, Nanan and Palad was on way to school at Kalibari. As soon as the vehicle crossed Sar Khad bridge, the driver lost his control after a rashly driven army vehicle came from opposite side. The vehicle turned turtle resulting injuries to students.

The locals rushed to the spot after hearing screams of the injured and they shifted them to District Hospital (DH) Kathua for treatment. The doctors attending upon them provided necessary treatment and referred the seriously injured student Pankaj Singh, son of Chajju Ram to GMC hospital.

Other injured identified as Kanav Punia, Pankaj Sharma, Ashvarya Rawat, Nikhil Singh, Tarun Sharma, Manik Singh, Manish Sharma, Ankur Sharma, Suraj Singh, Muskan, Ridima and Laksh Salathia were undergoing treatment at the DH Kathua.

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One Road “Accident” Death Every Four Minutes: Bihar Disaster Management Body Chief

PATNA: Bihar State Disaster Management Authority (BSDMA) vice-chairman Anil Kumar Sinha on Thursday cautioned people of the state against rash driving, as one road accident occurs every minute and one road accident death every fourth minute in the country.

Calling the deaths caused by way of road accidents an “invisible epidemic” even in Bihar, Sinha said the cumulative number of deaths caused by road accidents annually is higher than the number of people who get killed during disasters of different kinds, and, therefore, it was incumbent on vehicle users to avoid rash driving and adhere to road safety norms.

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Road Safety Drive Fails to Stem Carnage

DESPITE more than 840 road blocks and 3,800 arrests for traffic infringements during the end-of-year holiday season, the death toll on South Africa’s roads was little changed from a year ago, with 1,357 people losing their lives between December 1 and January 7.

Government-led road safety and safety awareness campaigns over the past five years have yielded little.

But the Department of Transport said on Thursday while it was true progress had been modest, road deaths were in decline.

Transport Minister Dipuo Peters shared the preliminary festive season road death statistics on Thursday, which revealed that the causes behind South Africa’s appalling road safety record were well-known and preventable. The major causes were speeding, drunk-driving, reckless overtaking, unroadworthy vehicles, unlicensed drivers and driver fatigue.

The department would be working with the Department of Basic Education to ensure that road safety becomes part of school curricula, Ms Peters said. More work would be done with faith-based organisations to create greater awareness of the need to observe traffic regulations.

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Volvo Sustainable Mobility Award 2013

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Bangalore Police To Launch Android App To Crowdsource Auto Rickshaw Reviews

This is fantastic! Soon you will be able to review auto drivers and your auto experience thanks to Bangalore City traffic police’s Android app, which they will be launching soon as a part of the Happy auto campaign, according to a report.

The new campaign intends to act as a service for the appreciations and complaint forum for auto rickshaws plying in the city, the report said.

“Though auto drivers are often accused of cheating public with tampered meters or over pricing, there is also a section of auto drivers who display rare honesty,” a police source told Bangalore Mirror.

The city traffic police department has also roped in Kannada movie star Sudeep as the brand ambassador for the campaign and is tying up with a private company for designing the Android app.

The Additional Commissioner of Police (traffic and security) B Dayananda has said that the campaign will be beneficial to both the commuter as well as the auto drivers.

The department also plans to felicitate the best auto driver of the month based on the feedback.

In another move to improve the auto rickshaw service in the city, Bangalore based social enterprise, India Drivers Network had launched mGaadi, a call auto service, back in November this year.

Recently, InvertedTree Solutions launched an app called Savior, which lets commuters share travel experiences so as to make owners of autos, taxis and radio taxis responsible for providing better services to customers.

A few startups have tried to straighten out the auto mess in different cities but most of them have failed. Mumbai’s Rickshawale, Pune’s AyAuto, Gurgaon’s RadioTukTuk shut shop. Bangalore’s EasyAuto shut shop even if they created quite a buzz at the time of launch couldn’t sustain in the city but continues to operate in Patna, Bihar. Read: Can AutoWale be the Meru of Rickshaws?]

Some of these startups have even been intimidated by the auto unions. However, a police backed app maker may not have to face intimidation. Also, if the police start taking action based on information received through the app, it could really have an impact on the quality of services.

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ArriveSAFE starts campaign to get PWD officials booked who were responsible for not putting Crash Barriers on Bridges

Ten people of a family died as their car edged off a bridge at in Amritsar district, Punjab, India. The bridge did not have any crash railings making it highly prone to such crashes. It is criminal not to but crash railings on bridges.

It is very clearly evident that concerned PWD officials responsible for the maintenance of the Road and the Bridge failed to perform their obligatory duty of maintaining the Bridge in proper condition.

We are advocating that the concerned Executive Engineer, Sub-divisional Engineer and Junior Engineer of the PWD of the Area are booked by name under Sections 304-A (Causing death by negligence) and 337 (Causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code in the FIR.

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In Study, Texting Lifts Crash Risk by Large Margin

The first study of drivers texting inside their vehicles shows that the risk sharply exceeds previous estimates based on laboratory research — and far surpasses the dangers of other driving distractions.

The new study, which entailed outfitting the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months, found that when the drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which compiled the research and plans to release its findings on Tuesday, also measured the time drivers took their eyes from the road to send or receive texts.

In the moments before a crash or near crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices — enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field.

Even though trucks take longer to stop and are less maneuverable than cars, the findings generally applied to all drivers, who tend to exhibit the same behaviors as the more than 100 truckers studied, the researchers said. Truckers, they said, do not appear to text more or less than typical car drivers, but they said the study did not compare use patterns that way.

Compared with other sources of driver distraction, “texting is in its own universe of risk,” said Rich Hanowski, who oversaw the study at the institute.

Mr. Hanowski said the texting analysis was financed by $300,000 from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which has the mission of improving safety in trucks and buses. More broadly, the research yielding the results represent a significant logistical undertaking.

The overall cost was $6 million to equip the trucks with video cameras and track them for three million miles as they hauled furniture, frozen foods and other goods across the country.

The final analysis of the data is undergoing peer review before formal publication.

Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech institute, one of the world’s largest vehicle safety research organizations, said the study’s message was clear.

“You should never do this,” he said of texting while driving. “It should be illegal.”

Thirty-six states do not ban texting while driving; 14 do, including Alaska, California, Louisiana and New Jersey. New York legislators have sent a bill to Gov. David A. Paterson. But legislators in some states have rejected such rules, and elected officials say they need more data to determine whether to ban the activity.

One difficulty in measuring crashes caused by texting drivers — and by drivers talking on phones — is that many police agencies do not collect this data or have not compiled long-term studies. Texting also is a relatively new phenomenon.

The issue has drawn attention after several recent highly publicized crashes caused by texting drivers, including an episode in May involving a trolley car driver in Boston who crashed while texting his girlfriend.

Over all, texting has soared. In December, phone users in the United States sent 110 billion messages, a tenfold increase in just three years, according to the cellular phone industry’s trade group, CTIA.

The results of the Virginia Tech study are buttressed by new laboratory research from the University of Utah. In a study over the last 18 months, college students using a sophisticated driving simulator showed an eight times greater crash risk when texting than when not texting.

That study, which is undergoing peer review and has been submitted for publication in The Journal for Human Factors, also found that drivers took their eyes off the road for around five seconds when texting.

David Strayer, a professor who co-wrote the University of Utah report, offered two explanations for the simulator’s showing lower risks than the Virginia study. Trucks are tougher to maneuver and stop, he noted, and the college students in his study might be somewhat better at multitasking.

But the differences in the studies are not the point, Mr. Strayer said. “You’re off the charts in both cases,” he added. “It’s crazy to be doing it.”

At Virginia Tech, researchers said they focused on texting among truckers simply because the trucking study was relatively new and thus better reflected the explosive growth of texting. But another new study from the organization is focusing on texting among so-called light-vehicle drivers, specifically teenagers.

Preliminary results from that study show risk levels for texters roughly comparable to those of the truck drivers. The formal results of the light-vehicle study should be available later this year. By comparison, several field and laboratory studies show that drivers talking on cellphones are four times more likely to cause a crash than other drivers. And a previous Virginia institute study videotaping car drivers found that they were three times more likely to crash or come close to a crash when dialing a phone and 1.3 times more likely when talking on it.

Researchers focused on distracted driving disagree about whether to place greater value on the results of such a so-called naturalistic study or laboratory studies, which allow the scientists to recreate conditions and measure individual drivers against themselves.

But, in the case of texting, laboratory and real-world researchers say the results are significant — from both scientific methodologies, texting represents a much greater risk to drivers than other distractions.

A new poll shows that many drivers know the risks of texting while driving — and do it anyway. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety plans on Tuesday to publish polling data that show that 87 percent of people consider drivers texting or e-mailing to pose a “very serious” safety threat (roughly equal to the 90 percent who consider drunken drivers a threat).

Of the 2,501 drivers surveyed this spring, 95 percent said that texting was unacceptable behavior. Yet 21 percent of drivers said they had recently texted or e-mailed while driving.

About half of drivers 16 to 24 said they had texted while driving, compared with 22 percent of drivers 35 to 44.

“It’s convenient,” said Robert Smith, 22, a recent college graduate in Windham, Me. He says he regularly texts and drives even though he recognizes that it is a serious risk. He would rather text, he said, than take time on a phone call.

“I put the phone on top of the steering wheel and text with both thumbs,” he said, adding that he often has exchanges of 10 messages or more. Sometimes, “I’ll look up and realize there’s a car sitting there and swerve around it.”

Mr. Smith, who was not part of the AAA survey, said he was surprised by the findings in the new research about texting.

“I’m pretty sure that someday it’s going to come back to bite me,” he said of his behavior.

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Govt to set up a road safety and traffic management body

With road accidents on the rise, the government is planning to set up a body dedicated to ensuring better road safety and traffic management.

“We are actively considering creation of National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board,” Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Oscar Fernandes said while addressing a meeting of the National Road Safety Council in New Delhi.

“The board will act as a dedicated agency to oversee road safety activity in the country, and will have powers to issue guidelines on a wide range of issues concerning road safety,” he said.

National efforts would be boosted if the States can actively champion the cause of road safety, he added.

In 2012, the country witnessed 490,383 total road accidents. The total number of road accident fatalities stood at 138,258 in the same year, official data shows.

According to sources, Road Transport and Highways Ministry is likely to circulate a Cabinet note regarding the proposal soon.

The proposed body may not have penalising powers, sources added.

Mr. Fernandes further said all sectors of the government including health, transport, education and police have the authority and responsibility to make decisions, control resources and coordinate efforts.

“It will be a relegated agency to see road safety activities in the country,” Mr. Fernandes said.

The proposed board will periodically review the action being taken and give necessary directions, he added.

Emphasising the need for better road safety mechanisms, Mr. Fernandes also said that the focus on the road safety issues starts right from the preparation of the Detailed Project Report for construction of a Road Project.

“Road Safety Audits are a must during this phase. We are examining the issue of appointing the Road Safety Auditors till the completion of construction. Best practices on the Road Equipments, Technology and Management practices focusing on the Road safety are necessary,” he said.

The Minister added that many accidents take place because of poor road conditions and therefore monitoring and redemption in time of stretches which have poor road quality should be taken up urgently.

In the next meeting of the National Road Safety Council, scheduled on October 27, the government is likely to deliberate on the issue of national permit scheme for the long distance buses, tourist bus among other things.

The Ministry had also taken action for formulation of National Ambulance Code in order to improve the quality and safety of ambulances on Indian roads, the minister further added.

Certain minimum standards and guidelines have been laid down for constructional and functional requirements of ambulances so as to ensure care and comfort to the patients, he said.

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Removal of Liquor Vends situated along Highways in the States of Punjab and Haryana.

The Bench headed by Honourable Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court passed an Order for the removal of liquor shops existing along highways. This is a major milestone in road safety for the region, a landmark legal precedent in India. ArriveSAFE had filed the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), faced strong and well-funded opposition, legal hurdles and delays, even threats to his person, during the campaign.

The area suffers alarmingly high rates of alcohol related road crashes, and with roadside alcohol stalls dotted along the highways, access to alcohol was a major contributor. This ruling will save lives and protect families.

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Launch of Ecocabs in the City Beautiful, Chandigarh

‘Chandigarh Ecocabs’ ‘ dial-a-rickshaw facility ‘ was launched by the Adviser to the Administrator, U.T. Chandigarh to facilitate easy access to the green mode of transport. The concept of dial-a-rickshaw service is based on a similar model that is running successfully in Fazilka town of Punjab since five years. Fazilka has nine call centres, which are actually tea shops that run near rickshaw stands. Whenever a resident calls for a rickshaw there, the tea vendor informs the service provider standing first in queue. This not only helps increase the income of rickshaw pullers, but also saves fuel and the environment.

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The Driver in the Bottle

India has one of the world’s highest number of traffic-related deaths and drunk driving is a leading cause for the alarming statistics. Our writer enters a world where people obsess about ways to keep drunks off the wheel: from pranayama to electro-chemical sensors to fines to good old-fashioned jail time.

Bangalore bus driver Pradeep AR knew how to hide his whisky. He would select a smooth young coconut, insert a straw, quickly drink about half of the sweet water, and then pour the booze inside the shell.

He didn’t drink on duty, says the 28-year-old driver. But his hands shook. Eight days a month, he couldn’t manage to get up for work. He was spending about a third of his income on Raja Whisky and Original Choice, and when he couldn’t afford that, a plastic packet of the cheaper stuff.

Still, he liked wearing a uniform, and was touched by the respect that he got from many of his passengers and co-workers. This was a lot better than his previous job, working for a cement factory, getting dust all over his face as he unloaded the lorry. He didn’t want to lose his seat behind the wheel. So he decided to heed his supervisor’s warning: go to rehab, or don’t come back to the depot.

In most places in India, bus companies have shown little interest in protecting passengers, cyclists and pedestrians from the dangerous consequences of a driver’s taste for liquor. In Bangalore, however, the Karnataka State Road Transportation Corporation (KSRTC) and its affiliates have made rehab a priority.

Disturbed by absenteeism, low productivity, and shocking loss of life in road accidents, the bus company runs its own 40-day programme where men like Pradeep can try to steer a new course in sobriety.

In a hospital on the south side of Bangalore, a stringent detox regimen is accompanied by medical lectures, psychological counseling, volleyball, table tennis, yoga and a bit of gardening. Patients may not carry cash or cellphones. Other than Sunday trips to local temples, the men are confined to the pale green walls of the clinic. These walls don’t trade in subtlety: one crude mural shows a weeping wife, gossiping neighbors, and a dead husband sprawled next to a few empty liquor bottles.

Aside from drivers, the patients include conductors, mechanics and guards. Once in a while, an employee will run away during the first painful days of detox. (The security here is not quite as strict as some of the shady private rehab clinics around Bangalore, which specialize in lockdown and intimidation.) But his supervisor will usually manage to track him down and compel him to return with the next batch of patients.

Pradeep and the other detoxed employees sit before a blackboard, watching psychiatrist Mamatha Shetty circle “liver” with a stick of chalk. Together, the class makes a list of physical ailments linked to alcohol. They have been over this ground before, and it still sticks in Pradeep’s mind, he says, how badly his old friend Raja Whisky could have damaged his liver and kidneys.

In another room, the fifteen men in Pradeep’s batch kneel on a striped carpet. They follow the instructions of Prakash Yogi, a grizzled yoga master, running through a series of pranayama exercises. He advises them to avoid alcohol and rise above negative thoughts. “The mind is the main cause of bondage and liberation,” he tells them.

Perhaps he has a point. But it’s also true that his pupils must contend with tough schedules and terrible roads which have an oppressive character all their own. “If the roads are good and it’s not bumpy, maybe I wouldn’t feel like drinking,” says Shashikant Dhage, a slender 32-year-old bus driver from Gulbarga. While the national highways earn his praise, interior roads remain treacherous.

Another driver, 41-year-old Shivaswamy, recounts how he’d drive from 5:30 am to midnight for two days in a row, covering 1,200 kilometers. He needed the overtime pay. And more and more, he found himself needing nine pegs of whiskey to get to sleep. The soft-spoken driver insists that he never caused an accident. But he realized that he was having trouble steering the bus. Like Pradeep, he could see his hands shaking.

Not Just Bus Drivers

Health experts and traffic technocrats argue that alcohol is a critical variable in road accidents in India—yet one that remains poorly understood. More commonly cited factors are speeding, fatigue, and badly engineered roads. But with heavy drinking habits taking hold in all social classes, road safety appears increasingly elusive.

Nearly 180,000 people lost their lives in road accidents in India last year, according to estimates from the Bangalore-based World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion. A whopping ninety lakh people were left injured. In 2010, India overtook China in the worst road traffic accident rate in the world, according to the WHO’s first Global Status Report on Road Safety. And the number of deaths on the road is increasing by eight percent each year, according to researchers from the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme.

Why isn’t more attention paid to the booze factor?

One explanation is lack of documentation. Many Indian hospitals don’t have breathalyzers or other detection equipment, and even if they do, neglect to test for alcohol intake when an injured body or corpse arrives. “A dead man is forgiven,” says Praveen Sood, Additional Director General of Police (ADG) in Karnataka. “It is culturally incorrect to check his blood and tell his family that he was drunk and that’s why he died. We are a sentimental people.”

In the absence of comprehensive data, India’s insurance industry has not seen fit to create a deterrent by linking premium hikes with drunk driving violations, as occurs in other countries. Driving licenses are rarely cancelled, and even suspensions are few.

Yet much is known about India’s perilous drinking habits. Binge drinking among youth is on the rise, coupled with the euphoria that comes from driving fast in impulsive late-night escapades. “There is no regret, even when they have bashed up their dad’s car,” notes Paul Lobo, director of Higher Power Foundation, a private rehab center in Bangalore. “They are busy chasing the next high.”

Studies show that male drinkers of all ages much prefer hardcore spirits to lighter beverages like beer and wine. Solitary drinking at bars on weeknights and mornings tends to be the pattern, rather than drinking at home. In rural areas, such habits endanger inebriated pedestrians who wander onto highways on their way back to their beds.

“On the highways, it is a deadly combination of drinking and driving, over-speeding and poor visibility,” asserts Dr. G. Gururaj, professor of epidemiology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bangalore. According to figures from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, nearly 64 per cent of India’s crash fatalities occur on the highways, yet experts concur that there is no enforcement of drunk driving laws there. Police plead lack of manpower and technical resources to conduct surveillance on such vast stretches of road.

Meanwhile, state excise commissioners have largely ignored pleas from the central government to remove booze shops from the edge of the highways. State budgets rely heavily on alcohol revenues, spurring reluctance. “The state governments have not realized that they are spending more on managing alcohol-related problems than what they are earning from alcohol sales,” Gururaj observes.

In cities, light fines have had scant impact. And many of the breathalyzers purchased by police departments are cheap Chinese-made gadgets that provide “erratic readings,” according to Ridhu Sehgal, partner in Integra Design, a New-Delhi based firm that sells road safety products, police car fittings and mobility solutions for the physically challenged.

Last month, the Puma Social Club, a lounge in Bangalore, took the novel step of installing a breathalyzer that will give patrons a reading designed to tell them if it’s safe to drive home. This has, as the owners ruefully noted, spurred some giddy young drinkers to compete to see who has the highest level of alcohol in their bloodstream.

So far, there are absolutely no takers in India for alcohol ignition interlocks, which would automatically prevent a car or bus from starting if a drunk driver sits at the wheel and sets off electro-chemical sensors. “There is a general bias against anything that restricts the freedom of people driving their own cars,” Sehgal says. His firm has been trying to promote the Alcolock, a device assembled and tested in Canada.

Yet Dinesh Mohan, professor emeritus at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, argues that there could be broad public support for installing such technology in public transport, given the right amount of attention.

Crackdown

Some cities are spearheading a crackdown on drunk drivers. Jail time is no longer unusual in Mumbai, where 50,234 people have been confined on the charge of drunk driving since mid-2007. “Punishment of even one or two days of imprisonment sends a very strong message,” says Vivek Phansalkar, Joint Commissioner of Police in Mumbai. An after-dark breathalyzer campaign has also instilled some hesitation to imbibe without a designated driver who stays sober. “Fear of getting caught is most crucial. There is no let-up. We are changing times, changing locations. The surprise element is there,” says Phansalkar.

In Bangalore, police have lobbied city pubs and trendy lounges to help their wobbly clientele to call a cab. “We are trying to bring the bars around to the idea that ‘your customers should remain alive, so you get more business’,” says ADGP Praveen Sood. Clearly, this is not a replay of a Gandhian prohibition campaign.

Even a small city like Visakhapatnam has quadrupled its drunk driving cases over just three years. The authorities there have found that the majority of drunk drivers are in their twenties, or merely teenagers. In January, Visakhapatnam police launched a campaign called “Arrive Alive,” and have tried to bring that message home to college students, together with counseling for youngsters and their families.

Yet much more remains to be done in urban areas, emphasizes Rohit Baluja, president of the Institute of Road Traffic Education. “Campaigns against drunk driving are going on in eight or ten cities. Even there, it is done sporadically, not wholeheartedly,” he complains.

As for bus companies, none have chosen to follow the lead of KSRTC and systematically send drivers to rehab, according to the Association of State Road Transport Undertakings (ASRTU). One place to start might be Andhra Pradesh, where the AP State Road Transport Corporation recorded 2,146 fatal bus accidents from 2008 to 2011. Or try Maharashtra, where the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation recorded 1,214 fatal accidents during the same period. The Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation could also take a shot at rehab, with 1,169 fatal accidents recorded in those three years. Alcoholism is “one of the very primary things in transport that needs to be addressed,” says ASRTU executive director Ananda Rao.

Back in Bangalore, psychiatrist Mamatha Shetty also tries to explain the psychological symptoms including alcoholic hallucinations. “Even if nobody is talking, you think someone is talking,” she tells patients. “You get some smell. You get some taste. Hearing voices is very common.” The drinker often responds angrily to the voices in his head, those scolding, excoriating voices. And the neighbors gawk, just like they do in the mural.

Are such sessions effective? That remains unclear. Over forty days, each patient spends very little time one-on-one with the psychiatrist, and not all of them are ready to talk about their problems. Some prefer to blame demanding wives or hard-drinking buddies rather than engage in any introspection.

According to Shetty, worldwide relapse rates are 40 percent to 60 percent, “and KSRTC is no exception.” But company officials cite a success rate of nearly 60 percent — drawing on follow-up data from local supervisors–and emphasize that those who keep guzzling are sent for another attempt at rehab at NIMHANS. “We are really proud of this type of programme,” says KSRTC chief executive officer N. Manjunatha Prasad.

Meanwhile, counsellors urge participants to take pride in spending more money on family needs, instead of alcohol. Shivaswamy, for example, says he intends to put Rs. 5,000 monthly into a fixed deposit account to pay for his son and daughter’s education. Pradeep, a bachelor, says he intends to send Rs. 8, 000 home to his parents in his village each month.

Redirecting funds spent on alcohol could make a big difference in many corners of India. Much more research remains to be done on the economic consequences of heavy drinking, beyond the commonly cited figure that it soaks up 3% of the country’s GDP. In fact, many heavy drinkers are spending nearly 50 percent of their income on alcohol, according to a 2012 NIMHANS report. That leaves a lot less to spend on food, health, and education.

Those spending habits also impose a broader burden. The same report says that “a third of the population surveyed had experience of having to work extra hours to cover for a colleague or a workmate’s drinking.”

Former rehab patients swing by the KSRTC clinic to provide upbeat testimonials. A crew restroom caretaker, B.V. Nagareddy, credits the programme with giving him the motivation to save money to send his two children to study for MBA degrees. Fifty-six year-old mechanic M. Devadas, now sober, tells the assembled men to pay close heed to Prakash Yogi’s advice to avoid liquor. He compares the yoga master to a succulent blossom. “We should be like honeybees, and make honey from the flowers,” says Devadas. “Take this and make good use of it.”

But outside these pale green walls, a different sort of nectar beckons.

Margot Cohen is a writer from New York. Her interest in India follows previous reporting stints in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

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