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Deadly stretch of road: Bangalore-Salem highway's Thoppur Ghat section

There are traffic jams caused on this section of National Highway 44 because a truck has either hit the median or side and toppled, often due to brake fade.

BHPian Rigid Rotor recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

This post is an attempt to re-emphasise the clear and present danger of daily accidents at NH-44 Thoppur ghat section – on the Bangalore-Salem NH44 route, about 35 km short of Salem.

It is a 4-6 km long downhill stretch with deadly accident statistics. At least 500+ lives appear to have been lost on this short stretch since 2010.

I had got stuck in an hour-long jam on the downslope section twice during three trips during the past four months on that route and my colleague was stuck once during the same period. These jams are usually because a truck has either hit the median or side and toppled, often due to brake fade.

Whereas traffic jams are just inconveniences, on this route it is also the possible precursor to a second and more deadly collision – another speeding heavy truck comes downslope coasting on brakes and jack-knifes into the rear-end of the slow traffic around a bend in the road, with deadly results especially on cars, SUVs and light vehicles sandwiched in-between. You can forget about depending on crashworthiness or GNCAP scores for any form of protection.

RSR and other posts pertain to the deadly multiple collisions during 14 Sep 2021.

However, an on-line search for accidents on this stretch for just this year (2022) will give a shockingly high number of results. I also spoke to a couple of local residents at a restaurant, just at the end of the downslope. They stated that truck accidents are occurring at least every alternate day, if not on a daily basis.

There are press reports of the multiple collisions on the morning of my crossing this section during April.

 Here is a YouTube video of another accident in April (thankfully a single truck), and another single truck accident- 13 July, when I was crossing this section.

Trucks coasting in neutral or higher gear, using brakes:

Check out this YouTube video at time 2:40 - a laden truck is moving at high speed and using brakes to control speed (using the inner fast lane).

The NH-44 Thoppur stretch has two 'S' turns back-to-back culminating in a narrow bridge that becomes a bottle-neck of sorts:

The NH-44 Thoppur toll plaza is about 2 km north of the downslope section:

Possible strategy for tackling this downslope stretch to Salem:

  • Stop and inquire about the traffic situation at the toll plaza (which is on level terrain about 2 km before the downslope commences.
  • Check on Google or on-board connected nav if there is a traffic pile-up (map route will appear in Red for that stretch).
  • Proceed only if reported clear, else its recommended to stop and park just after the toll plaza and proceed only after the pile-up has been cleared.
  • If a pile-up occurs after one has crossed the toll plaza, then maintain left lane. Check rear view frequently and if one spots a truck approaching the tail end of traffic at high speed, then pull over to the side immediately.
  • If one’s vehicle is at the tail-end of a pile-up, its preferable to pull over to the side and wait till traffic movement resumes.

There does not seem to be any alternate fast routes for vehicles proceeding further south.

Any suggestions by fellow forum members?

Here's what BHPian neil.jericho had to say on the matter:

Rigid Rotor, Ive been driving and riding through the Thoppur ghats since 2008. God knows how many times I have been through that stretch. Honestly, the most dangerous part of that road is driver / rider carelessness. If you are going from Bangalore / Hosur towards Salem, the preceding kilometers are extremely uneventful. Drivers / riders end up being complacent when they enter the Thoppur ghats. Careful drivers / riders have nothing to worry about.

Travelling from Salem to Bangalore / Hosur can be tricky if there are multiple lorries on the Thoppur ghats. They crawl up the slopes and everyone else gets impatient. Again, a careful driver will have nothing to worry about in these ghats.

Kudos to the authorities for their recent measures to make these ghats even safer than before. The first time I heard the voice call out "Please slow down", while I was riding through the Thoppur ghats, I did freak out.

Here's what BHPian tharian had to say on the matter:

  • Build a truck runaway ramp and educate the truck drivers about it.
  • Build a complete new road on a different alignment which is not as steep.

On the hand, Thoppur ghats has seen all kind of loads fallen on the road. Once when I was passing through, there was a fishing trawler that was lying on the road after the trick carrying it hit the divider. There was a photo I have from a newspaper clipping of a meter gauge diesel loco lying on the road.

The crane and recovery operators are surely minting money working on this stretch.

Here's what BHPian Ice had to say on the matter:

I completely agree with your take on the road. In my opinion, the road does not have adequate banking on the turns, especially the long left-hander that one hits first on the way down. I feel that better banking will at least reduce the number of rollovers.

The Highway Authorities could also put a couple of things into place:

Three toll lanes on the extreme left can be Truck-Only lanes. All trucks will have to pass through this, and a mandatory visual check of tires and the pressure gauge for air-brakes can be done by the Police.

Runaway truck ramps can be created at the top of the two S-bends.

"Your Speed" signs with loud audio warnings if one is found exceeding xx kmph. can be organized.

I drive this stretch at least four times a year, and am constantly keeping an eye on the mirror.

Here's what BHPian amods had to say on the matter:

I too remember when I traveled for the first time on this stretch on a bike and how it appeared not so dangerous while approaching, but soon I realised how easy it is to lose control once you are in it on a higher speed.

Authorities have painted it white with rumble strips/markers like a painting and loudspeakers scream "slow down" all day on this stretch - even then accidents happen due to not having patience and considering yourself driving expert/being self-ignorant of not having skill to negotiate this at high speeds. Not to forget truckers who are otherwise well behaved on highways.

Post that I have traveled a lot on this stretch in a car and I always take left lane, stick to speed limit and have a continuous look at rear view mirrors while on down-slope and get the hell out of there as soon as possible. That being said, it takes real patience while on up-slope to control the urge to overtake, specially in heavy traffic. It is always a good idea to not get stuck behind a truck(in case they lose torque and brakes) and better be behind small vehicles while climbing here.

Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.

 
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