It’s no accident | Sunday Observer

It’s no accident

Car crash collision in urban street
Car crash collision in urban street

If you read the newspapers and watch the television even on and off, you would have noticed one alarming fact: there is a deadly accident every single day. Granted, the accident rate goes up during the festive season, but death on the roads has become the norm in this country. Simply put, Sri Lanka’s roads are deadly for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. One example was the deadly accident in Lunugamvehera last week, which claimed six young lives.

The sad fact is that most of these accidents could have been avoided in the first place. I did not use the word ‘prevented’ because that includes steps you can take just before an imminent accident such as braking hard. Some of the more advanced vehicles have automatic defences against an imminent collision. My focus is on factors and good driving practices that can actually help avoid accidents altogether.

The first one is really simple: Speeding Kills. There are indications that the driver of the ill-fated Lunugamvehera van could have ‘floored it’ beyond 120 Km/h. Some of the newly paved and somewhat desolate roads invite speeding. It is thrilling, until you meet with an accident. Speeding is mostly done by young motorists and private bus drivers. As a general rule, except on the expressways where one can safely reach speeds of 100 Km/h, a maximum speed of 70 Kmph during daytime is more than adequate for most journeys. At night, this should come down to 60 or 50 Kmph.

Even more importantly, do not drink and drive. Drunk driving or technically, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is a major cause of accidents everywhere because it impairs judgment and reflexes. People may say they ‘know their limit’ but the best option is to stay away from the lure of Bacchus altogether if you intend to drive later on. If you must, arrange an alternative form of transport such as a taxi or ride sharing service or ask someone else (who must be sober) to drive. Sri Lanka’s Police do not yet have equipment to detect narcotics used by drivers, but the authorities should consider this aspect as well. It is also generally advised not to take the wheel if you are angry, sad or agitated. Driving while being in an emotional state could be even more dangerous than driving while drowsy, fiddling with the radio or air conditioning or chatting to a passenger.

Another factor that is sometimes related to alcohol (but also associated with fatigue) is falling asleep at the wheel. If a driver falls asleep even for a couple of seconds, it could cause a massive accident. Such instances, also called micro-sleep is highly dangerous and we have seen many accidents caused by micro-sleep in Sri Lanka in the recent past. Globally, around 40 per cent of all accidents are caused by drivers who fall asleep at the wheel. The best advice is, do not drive if you are tired or sleepy or have consumed certain medicines which may make you feel drowsy. If your car has a feature such as attention assist, which detects drowsiness and sudden lane departures without signaling, turn them on.

But the biggest contributor to road accidents in Sri Lanka is the sheer lack of training, road discipline and self-discipline. In most countries, you cannot obtain the licence today and drive say, a Porsche tomorrow without having another qualified driver in the passenger seat and a ‘Probation’ (P) plate. It takes time – years, really - to become a good driver.

Most driving schools teach their students how to drive, but they do not teach other ‘road values’ such as the importance of discipline and patience on the road. Discipline and courtesy to other road users are vital. If everyone becomes a disciplined driver, more than half of our traffic woes will automatically disappear. Remember, there are no victors on the road. You are not in a race. If you try to outpace another vehicle and succeed, you may gain just 20-30 seconds at most. You will be forced to stop at the next traffic light or a traffic jam. On the other hand, if you meet with an accident while ‘racing,’ you may lose your life or the life of a loved one. What is more important to you? A minute gained by a hasty manoeuvre or your life itself ?

This is why it is essential to obey all road rules and signs, starting with the traffic lights. Many drivers have a nasty habit of ignoring the amber light and speeding ahead, but this could have deadly consequences. We recently saw a CCTV video of a young motorcyclist who sped past the amber light (just before the red) crashing into a car coming from the other side, which had already turned green. The motorcyclist died instantly as he was thrown to the opposite lane. All other road signs, including the white centre lines (Sudu Ira in common parlance) and speed limits must be respected.

We know it is a connected world, but use a hands free system if you really must use the phone while driving. And never ever text while driving. Even if a hands-free kit is used, a telephone call can be a distraction that may lead to an accident. “Kill the call, not yourself” is the best advice.

The mechanical condition of a vehicle also has a bearing on its roadworthiness. There are some rust buckets which pass off as vehicles in this country and they should be taken off the road as they pose a danger to other road users. Some countries offer incentives to vehicle owners who remove these ‘expired’ vehicles off the road, which is worthy of emulation here. They are also given tax and duty credits against the purchase of a new vehicle.

It is also time to evaluate the policy with regard to three wheelers, which are known to cause many accidents. Three wheeler imports can be phased out as all major manufacturers now have quadricycles, which are much safer and comfortable, having four wheels and a steering wheel. The proposal to allow only those over 35 to operate ‘for hire’ three wheelers must be implemented.

Vehicle owners should frequently check oil and water levels, battery levels, tyres, wipers, lights, indicators, brakes and various other passive and active safety devices. Regular servicing is essential. Such checks are especially essential before long journeys for which the vehicle should be in an optimal condition.

Driving a vehicle is a very serious business, it should not be approached lightly. One should be physically and mentally fit to drive a vehicle and be disciplined as well. If all motorists think this way, our accident rate will surely go down.