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Killer Speed Breakers

They’re supposed to save lives, but  how many do they take?

The next time you unexpectedly bump your car hard over a dark, unmarked roll of tar on a road, think irony. All too often, ill-designed speed breakers designed to save lives actually end them. Unfortunately, in Goa, these badly conceived road bumps number in the hundreds.

The traffic cell of Goa’s police department does not maintain specific records of fatal accidents where such speed-breakers are actually the cause. Yet there’s ample anecdotal evidence over the years where drivers have lost control of their vehicles because of the bumps and ended up seriously injured or dead.

Take the case of Shama Shirodkar, a 20-year-old Bachelor of Music student, who died when she was thrown off the bike she was riding pillion on when the rider went over a badly marked road bump at Pilar on the NH-17 a few years ago. Shama was returning home at dusk after participating in the Yuva Mahotsav, a Konkani literature and cultural fest for youth. There have been countless other tragedies.

To be sure, speed breakers, when they’re well-placed and correctly designed, can and do save lives. The problem is way too few fall into this category.

Police Inspector Dharmesh Angle, who over the last decade and more has manned the police traffic cell in Goa’s most important cities – Panjim and Margao– admits most speed breakers are flawed in design. “There sure is substance in the claim that speed breakers are not built to specifications and are sometimes the cause of accidents,” says Angle, adding that Indian Road Congress (IRC) guidelines on speed-breaker design must be followed to the tee in Goa.

IRC guidelines stipulate speed breakers or road bumps should have a maximum central height of ten centimetres and be parabolic in shape. The IRC also recommends a width of at least 3.5 metres. But in Goa, it would be a rarity to find even one that conforms to these very basic stipulations, leave alone other requirements.

Speed breakers on the National Highway-17 itself fail to meet these standards. It’s the most important of Goa’s roadways and cuts through the state’s length from north to south. At least half a dozen speed breakers on the highway violate the IRC stipulations.

Physical verification has shown that the central height of the road bump located on the highway near Carmel College at Nuvem in south Goa, is at least 20 centimetres. Ditto with the ones at Agacaim and Cortalim.

In addition to the height restrictions, IRC norms also stipulate that they be a minimum of 3.7 metres wide so that the elevation is gradual.

On the flip side,road bumps also have had a beneficial effect on traffic regulation in Goa. Police Inspector Dharmesh Angle insists that these benefits either go unnoticed or unreported. “At several points in the state where interior village roads intersect highways and major roads, these speed-breakers have certainly helped to check reckless, speed driving and prevent sure accidents,” he told Streets.

A study done a couple of years ago by the Transportation Engineering Division of the IIT-Madras, suggests that close to 15 per cent of accidents are caused by faulty speed-breakers.

“I haven’t seen one yet in Goa which is designed to specifications stipulated in the IRC norms,” says Antonio Mascarenhas, a professional who commutes between Margao and Panjim on a daily basis. On rural roads which are rarely lit, it’s only the frequent road users who know the locations of the road bumps, he says, adding that the authorities should at least adhere to stipulations pertaining to notifying their locations with neon road signs.

The IRC specifies that road bumps must be lit by solar cat’s eyes so that they are clearly visible to road users. They must also be painted in ‘V Shape’. Also, road signs of reflective paint should be put up about 40 metres before the speed breakers. These signs should also mention the desired speed on which vehicles can negotiate the road bump.

According to Dr Veeraraghavan, who piloted the IIT-Madras study, the IRC guidelines clearly dissuade their indiscriminate use as a replacement for manned enforcement of speed restrictions on major roads and highways.

For a speed-breaker to be legal in Goa, it has to be authorised by the District Collector or the District Magistrate in whose jurisdiction it is located. Once a demand for a speed-breaker is made before the Collector, whether by the public, the traffic police or the Regional Transport Office (RTO), he calls for objections. He then holds a public hearing where all concerned are given an opportunity to put forth their views. A final decision to go ahead and erect the speed-breaker or not is then taken by the Collector after consultation with the Road Engineering officials of the Public Works Department. The rules require permissions granted by the Collector for erecting speed-breakers to be notified in the Official Gazette of the Government of Goa.

Do all speed-breakers in Goa meet this requirement?

It’s hard to say, but Vijay Singh, the Indian Police Service (IPS) officer who heads the Goa Police’s Traffic Department, indicated to Streets that he’s seriously considering moving a proposal to launch a massive exercise to first identify the rogue speed breakers across the state and subsequently move to correct the anomalies.