'Accidents are caused by drivers, not roads'

In the wake of the macabre accident on Palm Beach road that claimed four young lives on Sunday, NMMC officials blamed speed devils and an advertising blitzkrieg for the frequent accidents bloodying the stretch  
"Blame the drivers for speeding, not the corporation," insisted Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation Commissioner Bhaskar Wankhede yesterday, speaking to MiD DAY from Delhi. The commissioner was reacting to the brutal deaths met by four youngsters on Sunday morning, when their car hit a tree at high velocity in the Nerul section of the Palm Beach road.

Crash and burn: The fatal spot which claimed the lives of four young
men, when the vehicle they were driving rammed into a tree on Palm
Beach road in Nerul, Navi Mumbai

While admitting that major overhauling was underway to make the road motorist-friendly, NMMC bigwigs insisted that it was not the absence of safety paraphernalia on the stretch, but slick television advertising that promoted speeding, which was to be held responsible for the alarming numbers of accidents that have occurred on the stretch over the past five years.

Ever since it was thrown open to vehicular traffic in the year 2000, the entire stretch of Palm Beach road has been bloodied by frequent accidents, with many casualties. The Navi Mumbai traffic police records for the duration 2007-2011 reveal that the stretch has been scarred by as many as 432 accidents, with 525 victims, of which 75 people lost their lives. 163 others sustained debilitating and life-threatening injuries.

Wankhede added, "We were concerned about the spate of accidents taking place on this stretch, and hence asked the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Powai, to conduct a safety audit six months ago. They reverted with their report about a month back. We are now in the process of implementing the recommendations."

Mohan Dhagavkar, city engineer, NMMC said, "The report clearly indicates that the entire stretch of Palm Beach road, which extends for a length of about 9 km, was designed for vehicles driven at high speeds, ranging from 60-80 km per hour. Driving beyond these permissible speeds can be fatal. It takes vehicles exactly 9 minutes to cover the 9-kilometre stretch at the speed of 60 km per hour. The Palm Beach road is not a highway, but an arterial road connecting one end of the city to another. Driving at extremely high speeds is sure to risk lives of the motorists."

Speaking of the recommendations suggested by the IIT experts, Dhagavkar added, "Over the last 10 years, movement of vehicular traffic on the stretch has multiplied, owing to the expansion of JNPT. The Killa junction on Uran road, which lies between Nerul and CBD, is a channel for the passage of jumbo containers, trailers and large vehicles. Accidents have escalated on this stretch, and the NMMC is already in the process of carrying out rectifications - signs are being affixed, bollards and cat's eyes are being placed, speed breakers and crash barriers have been installed. New zebra crossings are also organised, as per the recommendations."

Asked what measures had been adopted by them to curb the number of accidents, Wankhede and Dhagavkar echoed similar sentiments: "Our primary effort has been to educate the public about road safety. Until and unless drivers keep their eyes on their speedometers, the list of accidents will just keep growing."

Professor KV Krishna Rao, of the Transportation Systems Engineering Department of Civil Engineering in IIT Mumbai confirmed that the department had conducted a study for the NMMC, but refused to divulge details of the findings.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic-Navi Mumbai) Vijay Patil said, "The primary cause of road accidents on the Palm Beach road is speeding vehicles, as the traffic on this stretch is rarely static. With automobile brands making speed fashionable, youths are keen on revving up their engines and getting fast and furious when they find an open road. These advertisements should caution consumers about the possibly fatal consequences of speeding."

Alan Collaco, secretary general of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) said, "ASCI codes are very stringent, and each advertisement for two and four wheelers comes with a safety message, alerting the public to refrain from imitating the stunts shown.

"The ads must promote safe practices like wearing helmets, avoiding cell phones while driving, and fastening seatbelts. Brands are also prohibited from promoting the violation of traffic rules, or implicitly encouraging reckless driving," added an expert.

The NMMC traffic police have also made a presentation to NMMC officials, stressing on the need to carry out overhauling and repair of the entire stretch.

The department has also identified eight junctions on the stretch as accident-prone - the list includes Killa Junction on  Uran road , Nerul Sea Wood sector 50 Junction, NRI Junction, Balsheth Chowk-Nerul, T S Chanakya signal, Vajrani Junction, Sarsole Junction and Moraj Junction.

Safety First
Some of the recommendations made by the NMMC traffic police department include: 
>> Placement of bollards on the entire stretch the road
>> Painting rumbler strips with themoplastic paint
>> Placement of cat's  eyes at specific select points 
>> Closing footways at all the accident prone junctions
>> Trimming of overgrown trees at Balsheth chowk, to allow greater visibility for motorists
>> Pushing back bus stops from the sides of the road

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