Press Release Summary = National Highways and Expressways total about 65000 kms, which is 1.94% of the total mileage of roads, but they carry 45% of the total road traffic of India.
Press Release Body = New Delhi, 23rd February 2007 :India has one of the largest road networks in the world, aggregating to about 3.32 million kilometers. Of this, national and State highways account for 1, 95,000 kms. National Highways and Expressways total about 65000 kms, which is 1.94% of the total mileage of roads, but they carry 45% of the total road traffic of India.
Vehicles are growing at the rate of about 11% per annum and set to increase further, with many international car manufacturers setting up plants in various parts of the country. The percentage of freight traffic has also increased to 61%.
High-speed vehicles on highways increase accidents. According to a UN report not less than 90, 000 people are killed in road accidents in India every year. This is a colossal waste of human resource and the financial loss to the country is estimated to be Rs. 12,000 crores annually. There is no professional road safety agency and not more than a handful of professionals are available in the country giving piecemeal advice now and then. The new models that are turned out and unloaded on the highways spur demand for faster highways and the national highways networking plans is a consequent creation. But faster highways do not necessarily mean safest highways.
Every accident involving influential persons immediately sparks a debate on the some technical aspects or about the speed of the vehicles but one important aspect does not get the focus that is badly needed. Take one of the common causes of accidents in the country. Speeding vehicles hitting the curbstones on the edges of dividers in the middle of the road, resulting in the vehicles toppling over with fatal casualties. A newspaper article quotes an American road design manual to say that curbstones on dividers should not be used. To quote\" \"In general, barrier curbs are not desirable for use on freeways and other high speed roadways. An out-of-control vehicle may overturn or become airborne as a result of impacting the curb.\"
If this proposition is correct these accidents could have been avoided, or at least the loss to human lives or vehicles minimized if there had been no curbstones. It is pointed out that this is not a new discovery and that highway engineers around the world have been observing this code for decades. However, in India, most of the national highways have this killer stones in the middle.
If one were to look closely at the highways, even as a layman, one of the striking features is the poor quality of material used, resulting in depressions, potholes and what have you apart from unevenness. Storm water drains adjacent or in the middle, high embankments without wide \"grey areas\" or protective rails as one would find on many mountains are contributing factors. It is also not uncommon to see one half the roads on a higher elevation then the other without protective guards.
Add to this the variety of traffic on the highways. The proximity of village's results in the highways being used by bullock carts, stray cattle and other forms of animals, apart from pedestrians trying to dart across, dodging the heavy traffic, resulting in the driver applying brakes at high speed with disastrous consequences. So long as human habitation is close to such highways (sometimes vehicles have to pass through small hamlets and towns that dot the highways) they will remain a perennial, and additional, source of accidents.
There is a strong case for the country giving urgent attention to road designs and safety principles, two key elements to make high traffic less accident-prone. The effort the world over is to design roads in such a way to make it user-friendly, taking into account all the possible mechanical and physical problems the driver is likely to face while driving at high speed on a long journey. The theme ought to be that even if a driver makes a mistake the damage is minimal, not punish him with death, as is the case now. This means that the road design should be such as to discourage use of the roads by elements not intended to use them and also provide for a cushion in case the driver makes a mistake or is suddenly confronted with a flat tyre.
Road users, especially in India, are confronted by situations impossible to anticipate, and hence it is all the more important that the design of the roads should take this into account. How? One of the ways would be to create a buffer zone on either side of the road, so that when such a situation arises, the driver could move the vehicle towards the side which is either covered by bushes or a gentle depression which would act as a cushion and a natural brake.
Road casualties may not be totally eliminated but efforts should be made, as has been done on a continuous basis around the world, to introduce new ways and designs to minimize the number of accidents and the resultant loss to human and material lives. Unfortunately, in India, instead of going down, road accidents are steadily rising.
To apportion the blame entirely on the design of roads would not, of course, be correct. The kind of road sense that is displayed in India is generally abysmal. Pedestrians shunning subways and preferring to streak across in the midst of heavy traffic is a common enough sight. The omnipresence of stray cattle along the highways is another major nuisance. But while one cannot impart walking lessons to the cattle, except to caution their owners not to let them stray on the roads, the drivers of vehicles could be dealt with more sternly when they do not observe the rules. Drunken driving on the highways should be totally banned and a strict watch kept on such drivers something that is absent now. Drunkenness is one of the major causes of accidents.
Another reason is over-speeding by heavy vehicles like trucks and set for overtaking ignoring all road rules. Blinding lights and taking short cuts and heavily leaded vehicles racing on the tracks ought to be checked with a heavy hand. Similarly, carrying hazardous material or protruding steel rods, spikes etc should be prohibited unless they follow well-laid standards and practices.
The establishment of highway patrols would thus become necessary. Unfortunately, there are very few of them in existence and even they are on a limited scale; further them not performing their tasks with the desired efficiency and speed. Helpliness along the roads is badly needed.
Overall, there is an urgent requirement for setting up a body to set safety standards and safer designs of roads. These apart, non-observance of highway rules (in fact many drivers are totally ignorant about them looking at the kind of driving one witnesses on these roads), specially drunken driving should invite heavy penalty and even cancellation of license. These and related steps have to be taken by the State and Central Governments if they are really serious about making highway driving a pleasure rather then a pain, as it is now.
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