Sunday, July 1, 2012

Evil Shadows of Ignorance

On some days, I feel kind of depressed in the mornings, after I do my daily perusal of that day’s newspapers. The reason for my state of mind is not difficult to find. I find the news published in the news papers that particular day, so depressing that it spoils my mood completely. It is not that I am in any way connected with such news items. Yet, in one corner of my mind, I feel sad and  melancholy. This morning was one such morning. I had just read that for the n'th  day today, there has been another major accident on the Mumbai-Pune express way. The other day, the papers have published photographs of two more buses completely smashed up in these accidents and I felt stunned with a sinking feeling in my heart, that we Indians,  are not really fit to enjoy such modern amenities at all.
This Mumbai-Pune express way  any way is notorious for the accidents that happen here. Even then, this must be the first time that there have been major accidents involving passenger buses.
Last year a minibus belonging to Girikand Travel company of Pune was speeding on this road, carrying some 19 Thailand bound passengers. These passengers were going to the Sahar airport in Mumbai to catch a flight. Around midnight, the driver of the bus lost control of his vehicle. The bus crossed the road divider and collided straight on another truck coming from the other side.The impact was so great that 6 of the bus passengers were killed instantly and 13 more were injured seriously.
On the next day again,  44 kids from Universal school, Thane, who had gone to Kolhapur for a school excursion, were returning to Mumbai. Their bus,  hit on the road divider as the driver lost control and overturned at about 8.30 PM. Number of kids were injured badly. After this, on the next day,  two buses met with accidents in the early hours of morning. A bus from Andheri in Mumbai and going towards Jejur,  hit the vehicle in front,  as driver lost control injuring 5 passengers. Another bus was rammed at the rear by an unknown vehicle and hit a rock on the side of the road. This accident happened  at Somatane near Pune,  and injured one person.
This must be the first time, in the history of this road,  when four accidents have taken place in short span of three days. Really speaking, Mumbai-Pune express way has been built to international standards and is as good as any such expressway found anywhere in the world.  It is a 6 lane highway with a very wide road divider, which ensures that head light from an on-coming vehicle never blinds a vehicle driver coming from opposite direction. The tunnels on the highway are properly lit. There are proper sign boards about the speed limit and other cautions. In short,  there is nothing on this highway, which can be criticized.  The main difficulty in using this highway arises,  because of the ignorant and careless mindset of the drivers ,who drive on this road.
Whenever anyone tries to drive on this highway at night, he would invariably see that majority of the trucks ride in the fast lane, meant for smaller cars and S.U.V.’s. The red tail lights on these heavy trucks seldom work. If there is a trailer truck, it will not have caution signs and red lights fixed at the rear. The driver coming from behind does not realize that the vehicle in the front is a trailer truck till he tries to overtake it, when it may be too late. The speed limit on this highway is supposed to be 80 KM. Most of the cars and S.U.V.’s drive at 120 or 140 KM speed. Signs have been put up everywhere about following lane discipline. No one follows it in practice.  It is absolutely essential to have full depth trades,  on the vehicle tires. Most of the buses and taxis have tire surfaces looking like mirrors. The mountain pass section of this road has a much lower speed limit. In practice no one bothers about this speed limit.
This ignorant and careless attitude is not really limited to this highway only. We Indians, unfortunately take some kind of pride in not following the rules. Because of this, it is argued  many a times that what possibally the police can do?  I feel that there are number of points , which can be easily checked by the police. There are two toll stations on this road and all vehicles stop here for few minutes.  It can be very easily checked at this point, whether red tail lights and brake lights are functioning? Whether caution signs have been put up at rear of trailer trucks? Just these small checks would prevent number of accidents. Most of the heavy trucks and buses carry more than one driver so that the person driving the vehicle is rested and alert. Smaller private cars and S.U.V’s and minibuses do not have a spare person available. It might be a good idea to prevent such vehicles plying on the road between 1 AM to 5 AM.
In the old days, the traditional custom was to always travel only between sunrise and sunset. This is obviously not possible and advisable in the present age. Yet, on a personal level, I think it is a good idea from angle of personal safety.  Speaking about myself, I use this road, mainly whenever I have to go to Mumbai to catch an international flight.  Considering the general horrific situation on this highway, I have started following a norm these days. I try to book myself on such flights where my travel between Mumbai-Pune always falls in day time. If this is not possible, I rather wait at Mumbai airport  and commence my journey only in the daylight.
Unfortunately, this beautiful expressway, has become a Ferari in the hands of a 16 year old learner driver or an AK 47 rifle in the hands of a recruit. Making such fabulous road available to the ignorant and careless drivers of India, might have been a big blunder to start with. Drivers, who have experience and would follow proper discipline should be really on this road. Since this is not done, innocent travelers are made to suffer. This is very unfortunate.
 However, a common traveler has no remedy for the ailment  and only thing, which he can do is to fix and follow his own safety norms like ‘Daylight travel only.’


  1. "sinking feeling in my heart, that we Indians, are not really fit to enjoy such modern amenities at all."

    Banish the thought from your mind at once!
    All it needs is a little bit of thinking why these accidents occur, and what can be done to prevent it. And who better to do that than the likes of you, well educated, intelligent, responsible, caring people?

    Some issues to consider:
    Vehicle safety - regular safety checks must be done and records kept. Mandatory inspection of such records at regular locations. Failure to have such written record is reason for the police to stop the vehicle and sue the owners for breaking the law, endangering public life.

    Driver welfare - Is there a union of these professional drivers? They need to make sure that the owners don't exert any pressures on drivers that make them drive faster than they can handle. More hours than they can handle.
    Drivers must be regularly checked that they are not drunk and are alert, along with vehicle safety.

    What happens with airline pilots? They have strict rules - no drinking, mandatory rest between flights, frequent health and mental health inspections. These drivers must be subjected such safety rules.

    Any one who wants to make money by transporting public for profit must be held strictly accountable for their safety and even one accident must be fully prosecuted and stiff penalties laid on those who expect to profit from such service.

    Law gives opportunity for anybody to make money. But such laws must also exert strict laws making the service provider responsible for safety and life of public.

    1. Mhaskar--

      Many thanks for your in depth comments. As far as I know, most of the things you mention are already there in the rule book. The main problem here is the total apathy of Indian drivers to follow any rules and disregard all safety requirements. For example in Pune city, two wheeler riders are expected to wear helmets as per rule book. This rule is just not followed by most riders resulting in high fatality.

  2. Mr Athavale,

    I have traveled on this expressway twice in last one month, and both the times I got stuck in traffic jams because of accidents. It was a really frustrating experience.

    I appreciate your stance on vehicle safety and driver errors. I also appreciate you did not site tyre bursts as the reason for accidents. In my opinion, the driver loses control first, and rams the vehicle on the side of the road, and then tyres give away. Blaming the tyres alone is not going to help anyone.