Hazards on the road

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.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    Indeed…driving has become a risky job. And in this case, it’s more of an ice-breaker. Looks like a case of front wheel drive vehicles without a mechanical slip differential at the front. But only the police report can verify the exact cause. Moreover, rear wheel drive vehicles will also face the same issue if front suspension is not travelling enough. Higher fuel prices have started to generate lower down force on our four wheelers these days. Desire for lower down payments and EMIs has made safety related vehicle mechanicals way too expensive. Not many manufacturer spends on extensive research to bring the cost down in providing safe vehicle mechanicals. But being a driver, we can only drive what we get to drive. And we need to know what we are driving.

    While getting dressed up for driving with the right pair of shoes we forget to notice that our car or bike is on the wrong set of rubbers. Even with skills to correct oversteering and understeering, the drivers don’t get the aid from the steering system to shift weight to one end of the car while taking a sharp turn on the other direction. When safety related technologies like ABS with EBD are highly affordable and cost efficient these days; our driving skills are found a bit wanting. When the road conditions demand a manual power transmission; comfort and luxury offer a fully automatic stick. Mismatch happens in our capacities to own a vehicle against driving one. And a professional driver is the breadwinner in many poor families…like our taxi, commercial, and departmental vehicle drivers.

    So driving with caution has become the last resort. Learning to drive safely for safety comes before that. But to drive what’s safe is still the first resort in many ways. We can always get the vehicle parked on roadside for safety to click a few selfies around provided we understand traffic safety. And thank you for this editorial post. It has indeed made me a bit nostalgic…once upon a time; even I went to attend some engineering classes.

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