Mumbai: On the night of February 28 to March 1, at around 3 a.m., a Tempo carrying wedding paraphernalia raced down the Bhor Ghat pass, heading for the Mumbai-Pune highway. Within minutes, he crashed into the side rail and transformed into a turtle. Of the 22 workers on the truck, one lost his life and the others were injured. The driver, who fell asleep at the wheel, was arrested for speeding and died of negligence. This particular stretch of the Western Ghat, between Khopoli and Khandala, is steep and accident-prone, said Sunita Salunke Thakare, Superintendent of Traffic Police (HQ).
“We often make announcements with megaphones before this black spot, asking drivers to be careful. We are also deploying officers to make sure drivers are not speeding,” she said. Still, the steepness of the grade means accidents inevitably happen with overtired drivers, especially in the early hours of the morning when patrols are less frequent.
According to the road traffic police, if a stretch of road has had five accidents or 10 fatalities in three consecutive years, it is marked as a black spot. And according to data collected by them in 2019, there are 1,377 black spots on the roads of Maharashtra.
However, further analysis reveals that there are discrepancies in the blackspot data collected by the state and traffic police (which is under state jurisdiction) – in 2019, the state identified 1,324 black spots, including figures from the Public Works department (PWD; 381) and urban territorial authorities (ULB; 315).
In 2014, a road safety committee formed by the Supreme Court concluded that the Maharashtra government (among others) was not doing enough to tackle blackspots. At the time, the government assured the Supreme Court that it would identify and correct all black spots by 2020.
A district level road safety committee was formed by the Maharashtra government to analyze and eradicate the black spots in 2018. However, the rectification works were halted in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and of the massive exodus of migrant workers.
In January, a host of government agencies including road safety committees, PWDs, ULBs, Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Limited (MSRDCL) and other state transport department officials held the 11th meeting of the National Road Safety Council in the Sahyadari guest house. . The state said that of the 1,324 blackspots it has identified, remedial action has been taken on 931 blackspots and temporary measures have been applied to 359 locations.
A permanent remedy would involve repairing a technical fault – such as, for example, a curve or a slope that has made this place a black spot – while a temporary measure would include putting up a signage or a barrier. safety to prevent death.
The national highway police, which was not part of the January meeting, has no record of the rectifications made by the state. This could well be one of the reasons for the discrepancy in the numbers.
“We have yet to clarify the discrepancy of the blackspot figure with all agencies, including the Highway Traffic Police,” a senior state Department of Transportation official said on condition of anonymity.
The importance of completing this rectification work cannot be stressed enough.
In total, the state witnessed 24,971 crashes that killed 11,569 people and injured 13,971 others in 2021, according to data kept by the Highway Traffic Police.
A numbers game
During his address in January, Transport Minister Anil Parab told government officials that “saving lives should be the main concern when planning new road safety measures for this year”.
“All black spots will now be reviewed to ensure that no accidents occur on these sections,” said Transport Co-Commissioner (Road Safety) JB Patil, who was present at the meeting.
The National Highway Police analyzes accidents on trunk roads, national highways, highways like the one between Mumbai and Pune, as well as major arteries connecting the districts. The National Highway Police shares its data with the state Department of Transportation as well as the authority in charge of maintaining that specific road. They also analyze the first information reports (FIR) of each accident and the cause of the accident. The data also includes black spots in cities.
“As experts, the concerned authorities then study the place and find out the reasons for the accidents as a result of which action is taken to address the black spot,” said Additional Director General of Traffic Police (Maharashtra) Kulwantkumar Sarangal.
According to the State Highway Patrol, the number of black spots across the state dropped between 2015 and 2018. In 2015 it was 774 and was reduced to 139 in 2016, 109 in 2017 and 55 in 2018. However, in 2019 the number increased to 300, bringing the total number of black spots since 2016 to 1,377. Of these, 160 black spots were identified on national highways, 77 on national highways, four on major district roads and 59 on other roads.
Cumulatively, since 2016 and up to 2019, the countryside of Nashik has the most black spots (83), followed by the city of Aurangabad (83) and the city of Nagpur (72). Mumbai has 64 black spots.
The Misfortunes of Rectification
“The correction of a black spot depends on the type of problem that the engineers and the police find as the cause of the accidents. It is even possible that a black spot has been rectified in one place but a new one is developing near the previous,” said the senior Department of Transportation official quoted above.
Piyush Tiwari, Chief Operating Officer of SaveLIFE Foundation, a non-governmental organization that works with the MSRDC to improve road safety and access to emergency medical care on the Mumbai-Pune highway and the old Mumbai- Pune said they had another definition of blackhead.
“We don’t follow the government’s approach to black spots because it’s flawed. We analyze each accident and the reasons for the deaths on a stretch of 5 to 15 kilometers. We are analyzing the stretch as a high mortality area and regularly auditing for collision vulnerability,” Tiwari said.
The SaveLIFE Foundation audit of the Mumbai-Pune expressway carried out between 2016 and 2017 revealed 3,200 engineering issues, of which 3,000 were corrected by SaveLIFE and MSRDC engineers, bringing down the number 52% death rate, according to the NGO. Similarly, it found 2,300 technical issues on NH-48 (the old Mumbai-Pune highway) and fixed 1,700 faults as of December 31, 2020. The NGO says this has reduced the number of fatalities by 54%. on the highway.
The MSRDC spokesperson said that they maintain the Mumbai-Pune highway and the NH 48 (Mumbai-Pune) highway and their engineers as well as the police analyze accident-prone places or high-fatality areas of the stretch and with the help of the SaveLIFE Foundation, they managed to reduce accidents to a large extent.
According to MSRDC officials, engineering flaws such as exposed concrete structures or bridge piers or even misplaced flowerpots and exposed debris have been rectified by placing guardrails. Shoulder lane barricades were also covered with guardrails and tactical rumblers to protect drivers who fall asleep on the wheel. The MSRDC official said 120 gaps have been identified in the road divider (median) on the highway, where drivers would take sudden U-turns leading to accidents. Of these, at least 100 gaps have been filled.
However, according to experts, there is still a long way to go.
Traffic experts say the government says rectifying a black spot means erecting signs to warn drivers to drive carefully. This may not always work if accidents are caused by technical faults in the road.
“We don’t get a direct response from government officials when we ask what has been done to address a black spot. Sometimes, when we visit such a place, we find that a sign has been erected that warns a motorist about the black spot. There is an urgent need to form an SOP that the government can follow while analyzing or correcting a black spot,” said Sandeep Gaikwad of Parisar, a civil society organization (CSO) working on lobbying and advocacy for sustainable development, including urban transport and road safety. in Pune.
“Maharashtra highway agencies are not coordinated with each other which is the need of the hour,” Gaikwad said.