The Telegraph
Saturday , August 11 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Smooth need not be safe for roads

New Delhi, Aug. 10: If the potholes don’t get you, the “polish” may.

The latest National Crime Records Bureau report on road accidents has thrown up several surprises about the devil lurking in the country’s streets — and its drivers’ heads.

For instance, Tamil Nadu has five per cent of India’s population but accounts for 15 per cent of its road accidents — 65,873 out of the 440,123 recorded country-wide last year.

“One reason is the rapid rise in the number of vehicles in Tamil Nadu: from 82 lakh in 2007 to 1.3 crore in 2010,” a senior road transport and highway ministry official said.

“Second, the roads there are getting wider and smoother,” he added.

But aren’t bad roads supposed to be the death traps, and smooth and wide roads emblems of safety as much as development? There lies an Indian paradox, said the joint commissioner (traffic) of Delhi police, Satyendra Garg.

“When a motorist sees a wide road he tends to speed, which increases the probability of accidents. In India, there is very little enforcement of speeding rules. Abroad, no one dares cross the speed limit,” he said.

“Here more than 70 per cent accidents take place on state and national highways, because on these roads there is little or no enforcement of traffic rules.”

A traffic police officer in Calcutta, whose notoriously pockmarked roads are a peril for motorist and rider, corroborated the twisted logic of smoother roads being more unsafe.

Potholes do lead to accidents, he said, but mostly when they occur on largely smooth roads, causing surprised drivers or two-wheeler riders to suddenly brake or swerve.

If a large stretch of road is full of craters, it can slow traffic to a crawl — which means that though breakdowns are common on such roads, accidents are rarer.

The bureau report reveals other counter-intuitive findings too, one being that it’s the afternoons that are the deadliest and not the rush hours —perhaps because peak traffic offers less scope for speeding. More accidents happen between 3pm and 6pm than at any other time.

Safest month? That’s rainy, slippery August (33,000 accidents) while the most risk-strewn last year was May (41,000).