Get rid of old ‘bangers’ | Sunday Observer

Get rid of old ‘bangers’

Just last week, a ‘Lake House’ employee was seriously hurt in a traffic accident barely a few metres away from the Lake House building. His right leg had to be amputated. The other person who was involved in the accident was killed on the spot. The culprit vehicle was a lorry registered 30 years ago, whose brakes had apparently failed when the driver tried to apply them to avoid hitting the two pedestrians.

These old ‘bangers’ are a serious problem on our roads. Many lorries and vans that we see on the roads, especially in rural areas, are nearing the end of their working life and in some cases, well past their expiry date. They are not in a sound mechanical condition at all – with faulty brakes, worn-out tyres, screeching axles, defective lights, wipers and instruments and rusty old engines that emit toxic fumes. They are a clear and present danger to all other road users as they are mostly driven recklessly.

The biggest danger is that some of these very old vans are used to ferry schoolchildren whose precious lives must be protected at all times. As I was coming to office to write this article, I saw a couple of vans registered around 35 years ago taking children to school. I saw a similar van with office workers as well. All these were practically on their last legs (wheels ?). This is a risky venture that can have disastrous consequences.

True, many of these contraptions charge much less than their modern equivalents but can anyone measure a life in terms of money? Even if one has to pay Rs.2,000 extra for a comfortable, modern van with all safety features, it would be worth in the long term. The older the vehicle, the greater the chance that it could be involved in a major accident.

Worse, some of these vehicles are driven by elderly drivers who may not have the reflexes and reaction times that younger drivers possess. Their eyesight may also be failing, especially, at dusk and nighttime. If one sees danger ahead, one has to react very fast to apply the brakes – remember that the vehicle moves forward at least 50 metres during this thought/reaction process. The vehicle needs another 30-40 metres to come to a stop after the brakes are applied. Coupled with the generally unsound mechanical condition of the vehicles in question, this is a disaster waiting to happen. But, it is a disaster that can easily be avoided if we have the proper legal frameworks.

More modern vehicles

Presenting Budget 2018, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera spoke of the need to have more modern vehicles on our roads. He noted that there is a ready market for our older vehicles in certain right-hand drive countries in Africa. This is an avenue that can be pursued with vigour. Scrappage is another alternative. Many countries have scrappage schemes where the Government actually pays you money to get rid of your old banger, which can then be used towards the purchase of a brand new car. It benefits the environment as well, since most materials in scrapped cars are recycled for the car industry itself.

The UK has one of the most successful scrapagge schemes in the world where one can get an incentive up to Sterling Pounds 5,000 (approx Rs.one million) for scrapping an old car. Sri Lankan authorities should study this and crate an appropriate system.

Being relatively new in itself is no guarantee that a vehicle will perform well in an accident because some owners may have neglected regular maintenance, such as, installing new brake pads and new tyres. This is why it is indeed better to enforce roadworthiness tests every five years at least for all vehicles. Again, the best example comes from the UK with its Ministry of Transport (MOT) Test. The MOT Test is an annual test of vehicle safety, roadworthiness aspects and exhaust emissions required in the United Kingdom for most vehicles over three years old, used on any path defined as a road in the Road Traffic Act 1988. There is a system of roadworthiness certification here in Sri Lanka, but this does not apply to all categories of vehicles and it could also be open to misuse. These shortcomings should be rectified.

One should also make a clear distinction between enthusiast-maintained classic cars and old bangers. These cars are generally well maintained and usually taken out only for rallies and motor shows. They are generally in very good shape mechanically, and pose little or no danger to other traffic as their owners tend to be disciplined drivers who care for their precious classics.

Short of an outright ban or stricter controls on older vehicles (which might not be possible with existing laws), the authorities must ensure that at least the new vehicles available in the market comply with minimum safety standards. The Government must thus be commended for insisting on minimum safety standards through Budget 2018. Apart from the existing mandatory seat belt requirement, all new vehicles on sale this year should have at least one (driver’s side) airbag (though two would be better), Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) and Euro 4 Engines. Many of today’s cars, even mid-range ones, also offer a host of other optional safety features ranging from Blind Spot Warning to Vehicle Stability Control. Some will even brake automatically to avoid an accident.

Fossil fuel

This is a step in the right direction that will rank Sri Lanka on par with many other countries that require tough safety standards. All buyers looking for new cars this year must check whether the vehicle(s) of their choice meet these requirements. Those looking for used cars must also check whether the current user has used the vehicle carefully and completed regular servicing and wear and tear maintenance.

While some manufacturers do have a reputation for building ‘safe’ cars, there will be accidents as long as humans drive cars because they make errors in judgement (‘human error’ in aviation parlance). But, what if a robot can drive a car ? Autonomous cars that can communicate with each other as well as with road signs are already being tested. These might be able to avoid accidents altogether, as they never get tired, drowsy, angry, emotional, hungry or bored. If all cars can communicate with each other, they will know precisely how to navigate through the maze of traffic without a collision.

The general consensus is that fully autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2040 if not sooner, which is incidentally the year that the Sri Lankan Government has decided to phase off fossil fuel cars. This is a wise move, since autonomous cars are most likely to be electric ones. It is worth keeping our vehicle population current and modern, in order to save more lives. 

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