Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Mumbai Expressway

I have driven on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway for about ten years now and always found the experience a little unnerving. Nothing to do with the construction which is world class. It is wide with some four lanes on either side, a huge bush and tree infested divider separating both sides of the road, a fence all through to keep cattle and other animals away, no two wheelers, perfect road surface with no potholes or unevenness, plenty of sign boards - its perfect. What unnerves  me is the traffic which speeds off from both sides of your car at velocities not less than 100 kmph and rising up to 180 kmph in the big cars. Everyone is possessed, from the Maruti 800 to the heavy duty trucks, the swanky Volvo buses to luxury cars that disappear on the horizon in a twinkling.  

The speed limit prescribed all over the expressway is 80 kmph, loud and clear. It is also mentioned many times in the press that most accidents on the expressway are a result of tyre bursts which normally occur when the front tyres (especially) are bald and the vehicle is doing speeds in excess of 80 kmph. At 80 kmph they say, there is a good chance of survival. Over that speed, injuries get critical, and fatalities occur. 

Another cause for accidents is dozing off at the wheel, a problem that ironically comes from the comfort of the lovely straight roads that lull the mind into feeling safe. I experienced this myself and I totally agree with the authorities who prescribe a halt every 45 minutes to an hour if you are feeling sleepy. (And get a talkative passenger who can keep you up and awake.) The two laned and curvy roads keep you alert all the time for hours and hours, because of the constant danger, which is an irony.

The third cause of accidents is lack of lane discipline which causes much distress to all drivers. Cars and other vehicles cut across lanes wildly at high speeds. The other day my dignified car driver Mohammed who believes in not moving the needle beyond 80 kmph was surprised to see a horse wagon zoom past us at 100 kmph and no less. I saw in the papers last week, that the fatalities on the expressway unfortunately came from nowhere - two cars were hit by heavy vehicles from behind killing the helpless occupants. Perhaps the driver of the truck was dozing off or the car was cutting lanes. Bit when something hits you from behind there is no chance. Obviously even the heavy vehicles were zooming by merrily.

If you look for them the expressway is full of burst tyre marks, smashed cars, broken dividers and other signs of daily mayhem but nothing is done to bring the speeds under control. Have not the expressway traffic people heard of speed guns? Can they not enforce the speed limit and make drivers more responsible on the expressway? Or will they just let drivers zoom away happily to their death and that of others? 

It is very tempting for a young driver once he sees the vast expanse of the expressway which resembles a runway almost, to zoom and find out how fast your machine goes. It is this behavior that needs to be curbed by the authorities and not wring hands and spout inane details and statistics. I do wish that these steps are taken to reign in speeding drivers and bring in some discipline on the expressway making it a safer experience for everyone. For speeding drivers, they can have dedicated roads where they can speed themselves to their heart's content.

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