Four cars collided and three people suffered from collateral damage in less than an hour on the busy Thimphu-Paro highway yesterday. The numbers could have been more had the police not intervened as soon as they received information.
But there is no reason to be alarmed. Our roads no matter how broad or smooth can still become risky to motorists. It is winter and we have an unusual cold these past few days. When there is water on the road, it will turn to ice on a freezing night. It is basic science that cars skid on slippery surfaces, especially if they are speeding and brought to a halt immediately.
Not to say those motorists were speeding, but the highway is broad and smooth. Motorists like zooming along it even though there are speed-warning signs. Unless they see a cop from a distance, they tend not to slow down. Not many understand that it is for their own safety and not the police’s.
At Khasdrapchu the blocked drain that caused the havoc was cleared and the road is safe, at least for now. The unsafe part is that there are surprises on our highways. Actually there was already a warning. Motorists share near miss stories when water from fields above had washed mud on the road making it slippery near Sisina, on the same highway.
If landslide is a problem in monsoon, winter can become nasty here. And it need not be in the high passes alone. A small stretch in the shadowy area can become slippery and risky. Caution is what is needed. It can come in the form of cautionary signboards. The police and road safety authority has met and decided to do that. That is good even if we are learning safety rules through accidents.
We are not experiencing heavy snowfall like in the good old days but still our mountainous roads can become unsafe in winter. We are not sure how information is relayed to the most un-expecting motorists of the impending dangers. There is technology to do that in real time, but we cannot reap the benefits because of lack of capacity or initiative.
Meanwhile, it is not only ice, snow or landslides on our roads that make ours unsafe. In many parts, our roads are accidents waiting to happen. If it is not a broken down truck parked in the middle of the road, it is construction materials. Truckers ferrying materials like sand, gravel and soil are not bothered when they spill it onto the road. Nobody bothers because we can rely on the thromde workers or the national workforce to clean it.
In urban areas we see people digging up roads to lay pipes after a road is blacktopped, even newly paved ones. Roads develop potholes because there is water leaked on it. Nobody bothers.
The number of vehicles on the road has increased. Safety measures cannot keep up with the growing numbers.