Addressing Expressway Safety Problems Vital
By Thameenah Razeek
As Sri Lanka has stepped up building large expressway systems, a surge can be seen in expressway safety problems that have become a serious concern. It is no longer a secret that accidents increase sharply during times of special holidays such as New Year.
12 accidents on Southern Expressway
Following the New Year holidays, Police statistics on fatal crashes showed that 12 accidents were reported on the Southern Expressway during this period and a total of 121 accidents were reported in the country, with 77 injuries and 14 deaths.
Police Spokesman, DIG Ajith Rohana said a significant increase in accidents has been reported during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. He said 10 of the deaths were from accidents reported on Wednesday (14), while the remaining four were from accidents reported earlier.
“This is data of accidents that have been reported to the Police. There may be more unreported incidents. 53 motorcycles, 30 three-wheelers, and other vehicles were involved in the accidents. The drivers of the vehicles have been arrested and necessary action has been taken in this regard,” he said.
Figures also show that 758 people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol on New Year day. DIG Rohana said the special Police operation to arrest drunk drivers will continue today. He urged drivers to drive carefully and refrain from driving under the influence of alcohol, to curtail road accidents.
Four youth in reckless driving episode
Shockingly, recent events also included a reckless driving episode on the Southern Expressway on 11 April, where four passengers were seen sitting on the windows of a car. They were later arrested by the Police.
The four suspects, aged between 18 and 20, are residents of Akurana.
The driver of the car was arrested by the Expressway Traffic Police Division for driving recklessly. Four people who had travelled in the car at the time of the arrest were identified later.
The Police traced their names and addresses, while a special Police team was deployed to arrest them today. However, the registered owner of the vehicle provided a statement to the Expressway Traffic Police Division and the owner revealed that the vehicle had been sold to another individual, but the transaction had not been conducted legally. Therefore, the Expressway Traffic Police Division filed charges against the registered owner of the vehicle as well.
The new owner of the vehicle had failed to provide a statement. DIG Rohana said steps will be taken to record a statement from the individual soon. The Expressway Traffic Police Unit is conducting further investigations.
Three collisions on Southern Expressway
Meanwhile, over ten vehicles were damaged in three collisions that occurred on the Southern Expressway recently. It was reported that the pile-up occurred because the motorists failed to maintain the required safe distance of 50 meters.
Following the completion of New Year rituals, many vehicles were seen leaving Colombo and its suburbs to travel outstation. The large exodus of vehicles led to heavy traffic congestion at most entrances of the Southern Expressway.
After the vehicle drivers entered the expressway, they failed to maintain the mandatory safe distance of 50 meters. As a result, the three collisions occurred in three locations en route to Matara between the Galanigama and Dodangoda entrances, leading to damage to ten vehicles.
Thankfully, no casualties were reported from the collision. However, the end result was more traffic congestion. Smooth traffic flow was restored after the Road Development Authority (RDA) removed all damaged vehicles from the expressway.
1,500 Police Officers deployed
A special plan was implemented on the Southern Expressway from 15 April following multiple vehicle accidents. After a high number of vehicles are reported to have travelled on the expressway the Police have taken this step.
Director Traffic Police, SSP Indika Hapugoda, said accidents were reported on the Southern Expressway due to vehicles not maintaining a gap and the driver not concentrating on the road.
He said the special plan implemented will see vehicles being monitored by Police Officers for safe driving.
Speaking further, he also emphasised that about 1,500 Police Officers were deployed along the expressway, including the radio cars, cops and OICs.
While insisting that all road users should act with civic responsibility, SSP Hapugoda said they have started to coach elderly people on traffic safety and safe driving programmes are being conducted for drivers and riders and also conductors.
Other stakeholders including the RDA will identify road infrastructure defects and rectify them. “Discipline driving methods were taught before and we will continue to do so while examining driving knowledge skills and also the knowledge of rules and regulations and medical fitness before issuance of driving and riding licenses,” he said.
He pointed out that the multi-vehicle collision that was reported on the Southern Expressway yesterday was due to the driver not concentrating on the road and also not maintaining a gap between the vehicles.
“We also advise motorists to call the expressway emergency hotline in the event of an emergency or a weather-related issue. Drivers will be permitted to stop the vehicle on the side of the road with their hazard lights switched on to make the phone call. However, it is an offence to stop the vehicle on the side of the road for any other reason,” he said.
Drivers have been urged to maintain a gap between vehicles and to adhere to the speed limit when travelling on the Southern Expressway. He said on a normal day, drivers are required to maintain a speed of 100 km, but in the event of rain to immediately reduce the speed.
Urging drivers to refrain from speaking on mobile phone while driving on the expressway, SSP Hapugoda said these factors could lead to accidents, resulting in deaths or injuries.
Meanwhile, State Minister of Vehicle Regulations and Bus Transportation Services, Dilum Amunugama, unveiled a new programme that is to be launched for bus drivers. He said 80 per cent of private bus drivers in Colombo are under the influence of narcotics while on duty.
Steps have been taken to grant Cabinet approval to introduce a new drug test and to include a new drug test when applying for the heavy vehicle driving licence, adding that they will be able to find out whether they have used any narcotics one month prior to the date of the test.
Meanwhile, Acting Director of the Operation Maintenance and Management Division of the RDA, Nihal Lodwick, requested motorists travelling on expressways to maintain the stipulated speed limit and distance between vehicles.
Research conducted with a continuous speed of 100 km/h, which is the highest permitted, since driving experience is vital at higher speeds, showed that at lower speeds the experience may change, since the human eye could identify more details and get a broader perspective.
Road safety is always a concern of society in Sri Lanka.
However, it still lacks a comprehensive and strategic action plan to provide safer roads for its citizens. There is an over-reliance on traditional enforcement methods and popular beliefs on road safety. However, the lack of scientific evidence on the reasons for road crashes in the country has been a major handicap.
Consumption of alcohol to celebrate any occasion is common. But when combined with driving it turns celebration into misfortune. Alcohol reduces concentration. It decreases the reaction time of the human body. Limbs take more time to react to the instructions of the brain. It hampers vision due to dizziness. Alcohol dampens fear and incites humans to take risks. All these factors while driving causes accidents and many times it proves fatal.
The driver of a vehicle is obliged to maintain the distance necessary to avoid a collision in the event of braking or stopping the preceding vehicle. Precise spacing values are given only for the selected specific case.
There is always a risk of collision or accident when driving in traffic. The human factor of road users is decisive here. The correct formulation of traffic regulations has a great impact on the safety in the operation of cars.