Monthly Archives: September 2013

Infrastructure better. Safety worse

I remember travelling from Delhi to Jaipur in 1976 by car. We were 8 of us in an Ambassador. A tight fit no doubt. More about that journey some other time.

I also remember the road. It was a two lane highway. Without any dividers. Must have been tough on those who drove., including my dad. We took a number of breaks. And even with a very early morning start, we reached only late in the afternoon. An average speed of perhaps 40 km/h, and maybe 8-9 hours on the road for covering the 300 odd km to Jaipur.

Likewise, I remember the two lane road between Bangalore and Mysore. Between Bangalore and Madras – the Old Madras Road. In 2010, the road, all the way from Roorkee to Chandigarh. All roads without a median. I feel safer driving or being driven on roads with a median. It is more comfortable for the driver.

Is today’s infrastructure better than before. Of course yes! NHAI deserves a round of applause for making a positive contribution to India’s infrastructure. For increasing our NH from 33650 km in 1991 to 70934 km in 2011.  Even more impressive is the growth on rural roads. From 12,60,430 km in 1991 to 27,49,805 km in 2011. Former PM Atal Bihari Vajapayee should be thanked profusely by all Indians, for setting up the Golden Quadilateral project, and making NHAI a stronger, and more accountable body than before.

This is no doubt all good. So, why are Indian roads so unsafe? 30% of accidents still happen on the NH, even though they are less than 2% of the road network. Vehicles coming on the wrong side. Vehicles, people and animals crossing. Head on collisions are lesser now.They now happen most times when a vehicle jumps the median and ends up landing in the path of another vehicle in the opposite lane.

We drive much faster now. And we have more accidents. I keep hearing about how someone or the other drove on one or the other NH/Expressway at 180 kmph. Fantastic! Glad that you are alive after your attempt at driving as if you were on an autobahn. As the boards on NH say all over India, “Speed thrills. It also kills”

We break rules. Even on expressways, various vehicles – be it trucks, buses or tractors – leave alone the two wheelers, seem to love driving on the wrong side of the road. Stop this “shortcut culture”. The accidents and loss of life will reduce. Easier said than done.

We often hear complaints about our infrastructure itself. Much less about the safety. And what can be done about it. Two suggestions:

1. For the Govt – Set a nation-wide speed limits on NH. Do NOT leave it to the states to decide. And implement it. Measure. Catch. Fine. Fine heavily.

2. For the citizens – Drive a bit slower.  The newer vehicles, bigger and better, with every year, allow us to drive faster than before. Some of us can drive fast and safe. Not all. But, everyone can drive slower. 🙂 I know. I know. Stop being a wet blanket you say. Well, if it helps reduce the number of accidents, and the loss of life, am happy to be the wet blanket!

Next time you hear someone complaining about India’s infrastructure, please tell them that better infrastructure does NOT mean more speeding. It means connectivity. And we have done well in the last 15 years. And hopefully we will do even better in the coming 15.