By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
It is for the third time in a very short span of time that I am writing about this subject and I hope and pray that I don’t feel compelled to write about it once again. But if we look back, not a single day passes without our new Mysuru-Bengaluru Highway making its presence in the news. And, sadly it is all only for the wrong reasons and for making some very distressingly sad news.
More than sixty precious lives have been lost this year alone, in accidents along its comparatively short length and the total death toll over the last one year has crossed a hundred and ten, which is nothing short of being an appalling disaster. Many people, perturbed by this and fearful of using it, now prefer to drive along the older portions of the road or even take the Malavalli – Kanakapura road to reach Bengaluru safely, albeit slowly. So, it is very clear that our new Highway is not just extracting a very high toll in terms of the money we are all paying to use it, but also a much higher toll in terms of the lives that are being lost on it, day after day.
Although this deadly trend became apparent quite early, ever since we started using this Highway, nothing much has been done to prevent it, except by way of holding academic discussions. Yes, that is all we have been doing over the past so many months. We regularly read reports and even see pictures of endless inspections and assessments being made by various technical bodies, every few days. But all these actions have unfortunately not yet set in motion any practical measures to end the problem.
Our authorities must realise that at a time of war, academic discussions serve no purpose, because what is needed to win any war is action. And, action is what we are just not seeing, although the problem we are facing is nothing short of a war. It would not have needed this much time since the accidents began, for our authorities to install speed radars and CCTV cameras along the Highway to monitor the behaviour of road users and start booking them for wrongdoing.
Procuring the infrastructure to put this in place, must certainly have been thought of at the time of planning this huge project. It is something that is well in place along many of our other Highways that have been built over the recent years. So, the question is, why are we seeing such a painful delay in commissioning it here? And, if this was not thought of, as a very essential requirement, while planning this Highway, it needs to be counted as a monumental lapse and the people responsible for it should be held accountable.
Without anyone or any system to check their transgressions, the behaviour of our road users has to be seen to be believed. Everybody seems to think that just because long open stretches are available for them, they can test the limits of their vehicles and driving skills, in their quest for adventure and excitement. More than eighty percent of cars exceed the speed limit and keep jumping lanes as if in a video game. And almost all the trucks, buses and other slower vehicles, that cannot twist and turn easily, invariably drive on the wrong lanes, for long distances, next to each other, obstructing the smooth flow of the rest of the traffic.
Just a few days ago, as I was driving just under the stipulated speed limit on the Mandya bypass segment, a high-end limousine overtook me at breakneck speed with two small, excited kids, putting half their bodies out of the open sunroof and waving out wildly to all the other vehicles. Their grinning parents, without realising their own stupidity in exposing their kids to the extreme peril of indulging in this kind of fun, seemed to be supremely happy in showing off their expensive car and its abilities.
There was no need for an accident, to occur to cause any harm to their little ones. Just the need to brake and slow down a little, to avoid one, would have been enough to send both of them flying out of the open roof like two torpedoes, with ghastly consequences. I was so perturbed by this sight that I decided to risk exceeding the speed limit, to overtake their car just to flag it down and make their parents aware of the extreme danger of what they were letting their kids do. But my car and my driving skills combined, were just no match to even draw close to them, although I held on to my pursuit relentlessly till they entered the Channapatna-Ramanagara bypass where I lost sight of them, after I decided that taking the risk myself was not worth pursuing my good intentions.
All I could do was just pray for the safety of those two kids and the happiness of their utterly foolish parents! Because it is one of the most unsafe things to do, I feel that driving with children standing, with their bodies jutting out of sunroofs should be completely banned by law, on all our roads.
Our new Highway by itself, has a good many design flaws which is a fact known to all experienced road users but which is vehemently being denied by the authorities who built it and their political mentors in their attempts to justify their actions. One glaring example is the complete absence of lay-bys at frequent intervals, where we can safely park our vehicles in times of need and wait for help. And, although as of now they are absent, we are being told that all those very essential wayside amenities like fuel stations, rest-rooms, restaurants and repair stations will eventually be provided.
Although some of its faults are likely to be accepted by the authorities, sometime in the future, due to compelling evidence, not all of the faults can be corrected easily now or in the future too. So, the best and perhaps the only way of reducing needless deaths on this Highway, before it becomes more infamous, is to electronically monitor traffic flow, like speed and lane discipline and penalise all violations with very stiff penalties. And, these penalties should be high enough to effectively deter even the high and mighty and the rich and powerful. There seems to be just no other way, for safety and happiness to come this way!
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