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Vol. XXXIII No. 9, August 16-31, 2023

Long Overdue: Civic policies governing the safety of heavy vehicles on city roads

-- by A Special Correspondent

On August 11, a freight lorry carrying sand was driving on GST road, making its way towards Tambaram. Rash driving caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle near the Potheri railway junction, knocking down two two-wheelers and endangering the pedestrians waiting to cross at the traffic light near the railway junction. Four persons lost their lives in the incident, including two college students who were killed on the spot. According to reports, the driver absconded soon after, but the authorities managed to apprehend him the same evening. The residents of the locality reportedly organized a protest near the accident site, demanding the assignment of traffic police to manage the heavy crowd crossing the road from the railway station and the bus stop.

It was barely a week before on August 5th that news surfaced of a similar incident which claimed the life of a 46-year-old woman. The ­victim was reportedly riding pillion with her daughter near Kattupakkam, when a garbage vehicle rammed them from behind. Destablized, the rider lost her balance and the passengers fell down; the daughter sustained only minor injuries while the mother succumbed to more severe injuries. The driver fled the scene, as in the incident above. Here too, the locality residents allege that the truck was speeding dangerously along the stretch, posing a threat to others.

It is a point of concern that the incidences of road accidents involving heavy vehicles seem to be on the rise. Such collisions carry much greater risk and severity, given the dramatic differences in speed, size and mass between large vehicles such as trucks and lorries, and lighter motor vehicles and vulnerable road users such as two-wheelers, cyclists and pedestrians. The design of heavy vehicles is also quite different, contributing to significant safety challenges – blind spots, for example, or greater ground clearance which leads to issues like side underride, when a victim is swept under the rear tyres following a side impact.

Tamil Nadu has, in fact, made significant progress when it comes to ameliorating road safety. Reports show that overall fatalities from road accidents have dipped over the past few years, no doubt due to the renewed crackdown on offences such as helmet-less riding and driving under the influence. It is high time that more stringent traffic regulations are framed and enforced for heavy vehicles sharing the city roads. The solutions need to go beyond managing access times. Clamping down on heavy vehicle accidents requires a series of interventions, with a focus on the preventive rather than the punitive.

For instance, driver training needs to look beyond technical competency – the license must sensitize drivers on safety precautions in plying a large vehicle on urban roads alongside other drivers and pedestrians. Infrastructure solutions too can perhaps extend its gaze beyond restricted timings to creating heavy-vehicle-only corridors, separating them from the rest of traffic. Other cities in the Western world are also considering the option of including multi-modal options for services such as freight trucks, where plans are being explored to carve out special services for cargo loads within the existing mass transport infrastructure. The mandates around vehicle safety must also be upgraded. For instance, the Tamil Maanila Congress President G.K. Vasan is reportedly urging the State Government to ensure the installation of speed governors in trucks. Technology has made other such precautions possible too – such as cameras and alert devices that warn heavy vehicle drivers of activity in known blind spots. Side guards – panels installed between the wheels to prevent people from being pulled under in a collision – must be made mandatory to avert underride incidents. Above all, it is important to build a collaborative engagement with the private sector to solve this issue.

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