Governing speed

Bertrand D'souza  | Updated: June 13, 2016, 04:25 PM IST

A horrific accident took place yet again on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway recently when a bus carrying some 60 passengers ran into two vehicles that were parked on the shoulder of the expressway somewhere near Panvel. 17 people, including an infant, died in that accident while 43 others were left injured. Reacting to the incident, Maharashtra's transport minister, Diwakar Raote, indicated that the government is planning to introduce speed governors on all vehicles, buses and heavy commercial vehicles being the first to be fitted with them.

This is first of all a lot of hot air and posturing; the minister has little to no idea of how he is going to execute this plan. The claims leave several questions unanswered: will the speed governors be fitted on vehicles registered within the state or for those from out of state as well. If only state registered vehicles, then what happens when they cross over state borders? Rather than investigate the incident thoroughly, baseless claims and suggestions were being thrown around.

Now if you look closely at the incident, know the history of the expressway and the various news reports itself, some facts become very clear. First off the bus was a luxury bus, presumably a Volvo from the look of it. That means it's powerful and fast. Have you ever seen a Volvo motoring down the expressway? It flies down, accumulating speeds in excess of a 120kmph. For a vehicle with a weight in excess of 20 tonnes, that's a lot of momentum and energy flying around at breakneck speed.

Now the Innova and the Swift were parked on the shoulder of the expressway. Except from news reports and what we have found out, is that the Swift was parked on the right shoulder, actually the median dividing the expressway, adjoining the top or fastest lane. The Innova was on the other side, the shoulder adjoining the first or slowest lane. The Innova was at least in the right place but what the hell was the Swift doing parked where it was? That's a gross lack of intelligence, and apparently the owner had his kid with him in the car. An accident was inevitable, and it just turned out to be even more deathly when you add the bus into it. There is barely any space on that shoulder and odds are the Swift was parked halfway on the expressway. I fail to understand why so many people cannot understand the perils of parking in an unsafe place on any road. Most drivers have this tendency to stop right at the spot where they detect a puncture and try and fix it right there. How often have we seen vehicles parked right in the middle of the road getting a puncture fixed, with traffic swerving all around them trying to avoid colliding into them. We seriously live on a hope and prayer! How much effort would it take to drive to the side where the odd of getting into an accident are much lower. People your tyres are not going to get damaged if you simply move a few metres off on to the side of the road.

The Mumbai Pune bus accident anyway took place early in the morning, 5:30am or somewhere thereabouts. The light was extremely low, probably dark even at that hour, and visibility was anyway poor due to a thin mist that had settled in those parts. If you've also been on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway between 7pm and 7am, you would know that truck traffic is at its peak. They often occupy all three lanes struggling to move along at speeds well under 80kmph. Quicker cars and buses thus often tend to get onto the shoulder to overtake them. And here is what I think happened - the driver of the bus must have encountered a similar situation and in trying to get past the trucks may have blindly swerved around the side of the truck or any other large vehicle that was ahead of him and straight onto the Swift! Unhappy ending.

Could the accident have been averted? Probably not, considering where the Swift was parked. Yes, if the bus had been a little more cautious and slower, it might have avoided the collision. If the Swift that were parked on the correct shoulder had their hazard lights blinking, it would have, even from a distance triggered off a warning which the bus driver may have seen. If there was also a minimum speed limit on the expressway, and yes being slow can sometimes be hazardous, the accident could have been avoided.

Putting speed governors is not going to help. That's the equivalent of building speed breakers on all highways and expressways. And even if the minister has his way and this speed governor idea goes through, who's going to check if the drivers haven't dismantled the governors (it's not a tough job to do at all)? What happened to the speed traps? What happened to the radar guns? What happened to levying hefty fines of speeding? Who is going to educate drivers that the shoulder is not for driving or parking on? Who is going to ensure that trucks are not crawling in the fast lane?

The accidents plaguing the expressway aren't unique to that stretch of road; they are taking place all over India. There is an explosion of vehicles on our roads, and the increase in length or expansion of roads isn't maintaining the same pace - it's falling behind drastically. When the expressway was built calculating the density of traffic and its growth on that particular highway, it was forecast that the expressway would adequately serve its purpose till 2010. It's now 2016; there are traffic jams, pileups and deaths occurring almost every week on the expressway. Overcrowding of one of India's fastest roads is a grim reality, and similar issues are cropping up everywhere. It's time to perhaps find some more logical and concrete traffic solutions before we run out of space!


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