Immature reactions to accidents lead to bad policy
By Sucheta Dalal
7 May 2008, Mumbai: In a tragic accident this week, 16 persons of a wedding party of 19 perished in a gruesome accident. The tempo was overloaded -- 19 people crammed into a vehicle meant for 8. The driver was rumoured to have fallen asleep at the wheel and the speedometer was stuck at 130 kmph when the wreckage was recovered.
Typically, the Indian media and the bureaucracy reacted by proposing a variety of bans. Lower the speed limit, fine people by trapping drivers with speed guns they said. Reading the reactions to the accident, I don't find any mention of the real problem --CORRUPTION, gross indiscipline and rule breaking.
I am a little tired of immature media reporting that helps the bureaucracy to introduce ludicrous regulation that hurts law abiding citizens and kills the pleasure of driving.
The latest -- after the recent tragedy -- is to enforce the speed limit of 80 kmph. How will the speed limit prevent accidents if drivers are drunk, asleep at the wheel or plain reckless? It will only allow the police to cause more accidents in trying to flag down speeding vehicles and harass people on one of the finest motorable roads in India.
Let us check some history. The Mumbai-Pune Expressway was designed for speeds of well over 120 kmph. But in the early days when the MSRDC could not stop people from walking on to the road to gawk at traffic (despite barbed wire barriers all along the length of the Expressway) the then MSRDC chief -- Ajit Nimbalkar -- came up with the brilliant idea of introducing a speed limit of 80 kmph. Going by what we see on the Expressway, it did nothing to reduce accidents. In any case, most accidents involve trucks which never seem to go beyond 30kmph when loaded.
It is also important to remember that the Maharashtra government was building a case to privatize Expressway maintenance when it introduced speed limits. It eventually went ahead with the privatisation and Ideal Road Builders bagged the contract. It has hiked toll by 15%, twice in the four years since it took over.
Do those who write about the Expressway ever drive on it? If they did, it would be evident that speed is not the main problem --Expressways are meant for speed -- it is reckless driving that is to blame.
Many of the world's famous expressways have lower speed limits and ensure that people follow the rules of fast driving. Can we not import good things from the West instead of skimpily clad cheer leaders? Consider how must media space has been used justifying their existence.
Just because some jokers do not follow the rules and endanger their lives and those of others, a hysterical media will help lazy bureaucrats turn the Expressway into a bullock-cart lane. After all, it is easier to take dictation from law makers rather instead of doing the legwork required to know the truth.
Why can't we insiste on road discipline instead of lobbying against speed? What is wrong with wanting to drive fast and carefully to go from point A to point B. Aren't people satisfied with driving at 10 kms per hour in the cities?
Here is what I, as a regular driver on the Expressway, had noticed and repeatedly reported to the control room as well as the chairman of Ideal Road Builders -- Mr. Mahiskar (he tried to bribe me by giving me a free pass to avoid paying toll).
1. Trucks and trailers with untrained drivers who neither know nor follow driving rules for expressway.
2. Trucks and trailers that clog the road with speeds of 10 to 20 kmph (yes I have checked the speedometer while being stuck behind them becuase they cant move) because they are overloaded or falling apart with age.
3. Drunk truck and vehicle drivers who drive recklessly.
4. Trucks and trailers with out headlights and tail lights are a big danger.
All these can be fixed if corrupt cops and government officials make the effort to check the vehicles and install a weigh bridge before the expressway to disallow drunk drivers, overloaded trucks and those which are so obviously falling apart and have no lights. Instead, they accept a bribe and wave them on.
Have you noticed that nobody -- neither the babus nor the cops or politicians -- talk about this becuase the regular hafta collected from the trucking industry is passed all the way to the top. That is why truckers are so politically powerful that any attempt to discipline them leads to a nationwide agitation.It doesn't matter if their actions endanger lives.
I have never seen anyone talking on the mobile which driving on the Expressway (as reported by the media after the accident)unless they are on the slow lane or have stopped. Fortunately, people are apparently not that foolish. More than drivers on phones, the greater danger is from the maintenance staff, which suddenly block lanes by placing their red cones on the road with no warning signage whatsoever. While driving back from Pune on 19th May I found they had blocked 2.5 lanes at one spot, leaving half a lane and the shoulder for cars. (CHECK THE RECORDS, WE REPORTED IT TO THE CONTROL ROOM)
The Pune accident that killed 16 happened because a jeep meant for nine people had loaded 18 and the driver was sleepy. How on earth does this allow any official to insist that everybody must drive at 80 kmph just because one person broke the rules.
Isn't there a system that works for those of us who are careful, follow all the rules? Maybe we can prevent accidents by ordering everybody to stay at home to prevent accidents.
India is the only country where a person in a car -- which is made of steel and designed with high tech safety provisions and crumblers to protect passengers-- has to wear a seatbelt or pay a fine. But anyone driving a two-wheeler has almost no rules. The police penalise people for not wearing helmets only occassionally and there is no protection whatsoever for the family that travels on the overloaded two-wheeler. It may have a woman in a slippery polyester sari, carrying an restless infant that threatens to bounce out of her arms and another child wedged between her and the driver. No problem. Their lives apparently don't matter, you get special protection and special rules if you are in a car. What helps is that you are a more lucrative "customer" for the cops when you break the rules.
When have you every heard the media demanding rules for two-wheelers? On the other hand, there is a commercial angle in the rule about helmets -- which are unarguably a safety device but cause more truma (because they are hot and block peripheral vision which is essential for weaving through city traffic) in city traffic which does not permit speeds beyond 30 to 40 kmph. I am not lobbying against helmets - but only saying that the decibel level about them is higher for commercial reasons.
I am sure there are many who violently disagree with my views -- they are free to do so -- but I am a little tired of mindless red tape tying up those of us who do follow the rules and are careful.
I fully agree with Ms.Sucheta Dalal's mail. The main purpose of having Expressway to reduce the time gap between Mumbai-Pune. I remember a time when it used to take 4 hrs to reach Pune. Now it takes hardly 45 minutes to reach Pune (University Jn.) from Vashi & vice-versa. Being a user of Xpressway on every alternate week, I have noticed that there are two factors which contribute to an accident.
1. Road surface: Eventhough I am not an engineer to speak technically, I have noticed that surface of road become very hot due to some material inside road & it generate a heat which rubber can't tolerate. So Tyre burst. (Plz. correct me on this). I am not sure about this reason, but I came cross with such reason after disussion with leading engineers.
2. Human Error: Sometimes I wonder how people drive on expressway. Whether these people have sense of humor or not. I have seen many cars which drive at say 80 kmph, drive in First Lane!!! This become impossible for people like us, who drive above 165-170, to control the car. Moreover inspite of honking, these guys dont even change the lane & give way for hi-speed vhicles. It is a commonsense that if you want to drive slowly then drive third lane. But No. These people consider themselves oversmart. These people are so immature in driving that they don't know when to increase speed & when not. I know one accident of Maruti 800 in which 4 people died. Why? The driver/ owner was at 60 kmph at one of sharp curve. Secondly I fully agree with the point raised by Ms.Dalal about maintenance work. This also lead to sudden slow down of speed at an eleventh hour, which lead to accident. Thirdly, it is a responsibility of car driver to check the vehicle before starting journey, as whether car is fit for hi-spped or not.
As far as Speed gun & all is concerned, I would request the authorities to close Xpressway, if they want to restrict speed at 80 kmph. We are in era of Modern cars.You can not expect cars like Skoda, Mercedes or even Indica to drive on expressway at 80 kmph. Even on Eastern Express Highway in Mumbai, we daily drive at 125 kmph while coming from Mulund & these people talk about restricting speed at 80 kmph. Rubbish. If you are very safe driver, then why should worry to drive even at 180 kmph?
As far as, recent accident is concerned, it was a fault of family, which loaded 19 people instead of only 13. Secondly, mechanical fault. If light were ON then how could driver didn't observe troller? Thirdly, May be Driver was sleepy. If we consider all such possibilities then Why should we blame Expressway? 130 Kmph can be too high speed for Trax (a Rural vehicle) but not for modern vehicles. I advise these Govt. people/ Pvt. agencies like IRB, to travel on expressway atleast once in lifetime because from their thoughts, expressed in media, I think they haven't been on expressway.
Anyways, I hope, these agencies won't implement idea of 'Toy' / a Speed Gun to restrict speed atleast on expressway.
marriage party were killed in a nightmarish accident on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway when the jeep in which they were travelling rammed a trailer early on Sunday.
The overloaded Trax Jeep got stuck in the rear axle of the trailer with 14 wheels and was dragged for seven kilometres as the trailer driver did not realise what had happened.
Human flesh, broken bangles and glass pieces were strewn in the bloodstained jeep which was towed into the compound of Kalamboli police station. The 16 dead included three children, ten women and 3 men, including the driver. ... there is more...