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Old 26th January 2008, 07:51   #1
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Thumbs down The Road to Death and Injury

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While the government is toying with the idea of increasing the speed limit on highways, Dinesh Mohan says the designing of Indian highways ignores basic principles of safety.

Road traffic injuries are the only public health problem where society and decision makers still accept death and disability on a large scale. This human sacrifice is deemed necessary to maintain high levels of mobility and is seen as a necessary externality of doing business. Deaths among workers in factories, mines, railroads and dockyards were commonplace and accepted in early twentieth century. This is not acceptable any more. Many societies do not award the death penalty no matter how serious the crime. This attitude is absent when it comes to road traffic injuries and fatalities.

Recent estimates suggest that road traffic injuries result in more than one hundred thousand fatalities in India annually another 20-30 lakh persons suffer injuries that need hospitalisation or expert medical treatment. For a young Indian the chance of being killed or disabled from a road traffic injury is higher than a heart attack, HIV or cancer. This trend is showing no signs of decline. Hardly a day goes by when an angry crowd does not try to lynch a driver or burn a vehicle involved in a pedestrian crash. Villagers on their own have also constructed illegal speed humps (speed-breakers) in thousands of villages to slow down vehicles speeding through their neighbourhoods. But policy makers, courts, police departments, engineers and NGOs keep pushing for policies that have been shown not to work.

According to the Road Traffic Safety Bill passed by the Swedish Parliament in 1997, The responsibility for every death or loss of health in the road transport system rests with the person responsible for the design of that system. This puts the responsibility on the engineers who build and maintain the road and the police department that manages traffic on that road. Not primarily on the people who use the road because it has been demonstrated that road user behaviour is conditioned by the system design and how it is managed. This view has been endorsed and supported by the World Health Organisationís World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention released three years ago. Many in India have this report on their desks but seem to ignore its contents and its recommendations.

Take the case of our intercity highways that are being converted to four or six lanes. Now car owners are thrilled to speed through at velocities in excess of 100 km per hour sharing the road space with pedestrians, cyclists and tractors. This violates all principles of safe transport. When a high-speed road is constructed in, say, Netherlands, they have to ensure that it is a separate facility and another low speed road is provided for slower traffic. Even the design of our highways ignores basic principles of safety accepted the world over. For example, all our highways have medians 30 cm or greater in height separating the two directions of traffic and a sharp slope on the sides. Both these features are prohibited on high-speed roads. If your tyre touches the median it will be destroyed, your car will be launched in space and land on the road spinning. For this reason, no raised obstructions are allowed on roads where vehicles travel at speeds greater than 50 km per hour. You have to provide a 5 m wide run off area, or, if you donít have the space a guard rail or a concrete barrier (called a New Jersey barrier) is provided to slow down the vehicle and keep it on the road. This neglect of basic design principles has resulted in hundreds of needless deaths on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Thousands more will die uselessly on our new highways in the years to come.

The situation in our cities is no better. There is no European or Japanese city where the speed limit is more than 50 km per hour on major roads and more than 30 km per hour on local residential streets. This is achieved by road design that makes it difficult to speed, enforcement and modern technological tools. We know that at a 30 km per hour impact, the probability of death for a pedestrian is about 10 per cent and at 50 km per hour about 90 per cent. This is the scientific basis for setting city speed limits. This is also why no cities with low crash rates have built high speed roads crisscrossing them. We, on the other hand, are building highways and flyovers that encourage people to speed and discourage use of public transport. Not one flyover design in the country has provided for safe entrances and exits.

We also know from experience that road users are not deterred by extreme forms of punishment or very heavy fines. However, they do respond quickly to their perception of the probability of being caught. This is why helmet laws are so effective when there is police presence on the road. On the other hand, sending fine notices by post to offenders in Delhi does not seem to have had much effect as crash rates continue to increase. This is probably because no other road user knows that someone has been caught violating a rule. It is important that every day a road user witnesses someone being hauled up for jumping a red light, speeding or driving dangerously through traffic. Only possible when we have continuous patrolling of the streets and well designed random policing systems. Instead of instituting well-proven procedures, we continue to push exorbitant fines and jail terms. If severe punishment was the solution then the daily lynching of errant drivers and road rage should have brought down our crash rates to zero.

Our management of traffic at crossings best exemplifies our lack of scientific approach. We allow free left turns at traffic lights and the police officials zealously defend this practice. This allows vehicles to move continuously and there is no safe time for pedestrians to cross the road. The pedestrians then move further upstream and run across the road at their peril. We then blame them for jaywalking, being stupid or both. We continue the bad practice when most cities with good safety records do not allow free turns at crossings and provide safe pedestrian crossings every 700-800 m on the surface and not subways or foot overbridges.

These are just a few examples of wrong policies being pursued in the face of available evidence to the contrary. The consequence of all this is that essential policies and countermeasures needed to control the epidemic of road traffic injuties remain neglected. The first step in road traffic injury control would be to implement those policies that have international validity and those that have a fair chance of success irrespective of the income levels. The second would be to set up at national or regional levels, official road safety agencies that are independent of road building departments. These agencies would oversee data collection, standard setting, policy evaluation and research activities. The third step would be to establish and strengthen research and teaching centres in all areas associated with road safety. This would slowly help us feel our way in the right direction.
The road to death and injury - Indian Road Traffic Discussion !

In India, more number of people die of road accidents than of AIDS. But the Govt. & NGOs are more interested in supplying c*****s !

For a young Indian the chance of being killed or disabled from a road traffic injury is higher than a heart attack, HIV or cancer.
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Old 26th January 2008, 10:55   #2
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. There is no guarantee for the life of people when you drive on roads especially on two wheelers. There are many of incidents inside city itself daily that the 2 wheelers comes under bus or lorrys. Y'day, a KAT worker came under bus and she was killed on spot. These things are happening much to often nowadays. The main contributor for this is, according to me is the ever growing traffic, impatent drivers, road rage, traffic jams every where leading to frustration. The govt is deaf on these incidents and they blame on the drivers rather than improving infrastructure.
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Old 26th January 2008, 11:48   #3
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True - we do not provide alternate routes / roads when we convert existing roads into superways / toll ways. I believe that having an alternate free way is one of prequisites for converting an existing road [or building a new] toll way.

I have several times experienced situations on new roads / toll ways when you actually have to slow down while overtaking due to the huge difference between speeds of vehicles beign overtaken and the overtaking vehicle.

On the Edapally - Aroor NH 47 byepass, upto vytilla, there is a narrow service way, well away from the main two lane road which, if well maintained can be used by slow moving vehicles - two wheelers and three wheelers. But, no - these service roads are used only by locals to park their vehicles and by establishments to repair automobiles.

The result is severe difference between speeds of vehicles on the main part of the road, leading to much hazard.
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Old 31st January 2008, 20:03   #4
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I have seen many times a Truck Bye Lane but does any slow moving traffic take it ? No.

There is mostly rocks and nails and all types of stuff lying on the left side of the road rendering it very dangerous to use it. :(
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Old 31st January 2008, 20:46   #5
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There are certain principles of safe driving that will minimize the risk of accidents, either due to one's own errors or those due to some other driver. Regrettably most of the drivers do not seem to be aware of these or even care about them. For example, many seem to think that crawling along at painfully slow speeds in the fast lane of an Expressway is safe driving. Even more dangerously they change lanes at the same painfully slow rate, giving a big headache to those trying to overtake them at a much higher speed (does one cut to their left or to their right, while they dawdle along in no man's land between two lanes?).

But ultimately, we are dependent for our survival on just plain luck. No matter how diligently you practice the principles of safe driving or how good your skills are, nothing can save you from massive errors made by somebody else or some breakdown/failure in your vehicle or somebody else's. For example, I sometimes wonder what I would do if the vehicle on the middle lane that I am overtaking suffers a tyre burst and suddenly plunges into my path just as I am committed to the overtake. Something tells me that my goose would be cooked, regardless of my driving skills. Or if some lunatic makes a violent and completely unanticipated lane change, or if there is an accident just ahead of me around the corner of an Expressway, leaving me no gap to pass through, would I be equal to the challenge of avoiding a fatal accident?

These thoughts do worry me from time to time because the traffic is increasing at an alarming rate without corresponding increase in road space.
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Old 11th February 2008, 19:25   #6
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Originally Posted by rks View Post
But ultimately, we are dependent for our survival on just plain luck. No matter how diligently you practice the principles of safe driving or how good your skills are, nothing can save you from massive errors made by somebody else or some breakdown/failure in your vehicle or somebody else's. For example, I sometimes wonder what I would do if the vehicle on the middle lane that I am overtaking suffers a tyre burst and suddenly plunges into my path just as I am committed to the overtake. Something tells me that my goose would be cooked, regardless of my driving skills. Or if some lunatic makes a violent and completely unanticipated lane change, or if there is an accident just ahead of me around the corner of an Expressway, leaving me no gap to pass through, would I be equal to the challenge of avoiding a fatal accident?

These thoughts do worry me from time to time because the traffic is increasing at an alarming rate without corresponding increase in road space.
I wanted to do more car trips in a year, but the above mentioned exact thoughts keep me away from it and I dont have the courage to do it very often in order to minimize the risk factor involved. When u do a deep thinking, it's just a plain luck at speeds over 120 kmph.

Hence I give a chance only once in a year
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Old 11th February 2008, 20:25   #7
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"You don't need to make a mistake to get killed on the road. Someone else might just do the needful for you."

OT: I don't know if someone can lay claim to the above statement. Heck, I'm not sure if I conceived it or read it somewhere. Help please, lest I go about boasting it as my own.

Get personal accident insurance guys. It is very cheap but the most ignored insurance cover in our country. You don't want your family to suffer after you have departed, do you?
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Old 11th February 2008, 20:41   #8
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Originally Posted by rks View Post
For example, I sometimes wonder what I would do if the vehicle on the middle lane that I am overtaking suffers a tyre burst and suddenly plunges into my path just as I am committed to the overtake. Something tells me that my goose would be cooked, regardless of my driving skills. Or if some lunatic makes a violent and completely unanticipated lane change, or if there is an accident just ahead of me around the corner of an Expressway, leaving me no gap to pass through, would I be equal to the challenge of avoiding a fatal accident?

These thoughts do worry me from time to time because the traffic is increasing at an alarming rate without corresponding increase in road space.
I had been thinking in these lines from long time while I'am driving with my family especially on highways. That's why I maintain the speed of around 90~100 kmph. But whatever said and done, if the mistake is from otherside, then we can't do anything other than pray to god.

As you rightly said the traffic is increasing day by day and so also the maniac drivers. Without the proper infrastructure, the accidents do happen and we should be careful on our part. Take maximum precautions. The rest is left out to the fate.
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