On the face of it, Samruddhi’s accident data from December 11, 2022 to March 20, 2023 shows that mechanical breakdown due to speeding accounted for over 400 accidents, punctures for 130, and tyre-burst for 108. But experts say these may not necessarily have resulted in the maximum deaths. They say that the 51 accidents that resulted in deaths (in all, 106, averaging two deaths per crash) have occurred also because of driving fatigue, not least because of an inadequate number of stops along a rather monotonous drive – the Expressway, after all, is a greenfield project and monotony-breakers like commercial establishments and hoardings are yet to come up along it. They also say that the kind of driving that is done on asphalt roads is not suitable for a superhighway built of concrete: Different surfaces offer different amounts of friction, because of which, braking distances are longer on concrete roads compared to asphalt ones. “Ideally, speeds on cement roads should be 10-15% slower than on tar roads,” said an engineer.
IIT professor Ravi Sinha, an expert on infrastructure engineering, said that the world over, concrete has shown to be a superior performer. “Concrete roads have more sustainability than any other material. But motorists must ensure that their cars are fitted with high-quality nitrogen-filled tyres before they embark on long trips on concrete highways,” he said.
Motorists need to avoid alcohol, stick to lanes, regulate speeds and use fitter tyres, said Anil Gaikwad, joint MD (engineering), Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which has constructed Samruddhi. “Loss of control, drowsiness and tyre-burst are the three key reasons for accidents on the Expresway,” he said. “Also, Samruddhi has a smooth concrete surface with no turns or a ghat section. Drivers on such highways may experience hypnosis due to speed (highway hypnosis is when drivers may become hypnotized by the monotony of the road). Stationary vehicles may seem like they are moving. And moving vehicles may seem like they are parked. Hence, speed needs to be controlled.”
The MSRDC’s joint MD (safety), Sanjay Jadav, said the authorities are working to combat highway fatigue. “We are setting up 16 more wayside amenities over and above the existing 13. These facilities will offer space to rest, and thus be necessary breaks from long drives,” he said. Ajay Jain, ex-head (customer information management) with Tata Motors’ commercial vehicles division, said wayside amenities should be a must for all long expressways. “Drivers can go into a daze. Wayside amenities, ideally located every 50 km, are a must to rest drivers and tyres,” he said.
“Tyres heat up faster on concrete roads and the Samruddhi is a long continuous concrete stretch,” said tyre expert and regional sales head, Reise Moto, Nitin Arun Chaudhari. “Concrete’s tendency to heat up tyres means that rubber takes longer to cool. That’s why we need cooling breaks. But the first thing we need to do is learn the tyre pressure recommended by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), which can be found in a vehicle’s manual.”
The next step is understanding cold pressure and hot pressure in tyres, he said. “Since air inside a hot tyre expands, it’s advised that we fill a little lower than the recommended pressure. This allows hot air to expand inside a tyre and not exceed prescribed limits. The best thing to do is to use nitrogen, as it does not expand when hot.”
The next point – and this is a matter of great concern – is the condition of many roadside air-filling stations. “Tyre-inflating machines (old ones, with needles) at many of these shops have lost their calibration sensitivity because they fill tyres of all types of vehicles – from trucks to small hatchbacks. As a result, the 32 psi you think you have filled could be as high as 40, which is extremely dangerous. A tyre at this pressure, irrespective of road surface, will explode. An over-inflated tyre also reduces the contact patch,” Chaudhari said. “Contact patch is the tiny portion of the tyre that’s in contact with the road. The contact patch of a motorcycle is the size of a credit card; for a car, it’s the size of your palm. A slight variation in the size of the contact patch – in a swollen over-inflated tyre that’s more oval-shaped than the ideal ‘square’ – has the potential to put the car’s occupants at great risk of a crash. Last but not least, check the manufacturing date while buying tyres. Dealers are known to palm off old tyres.”
Experts said that besides the setting up of wayside amenities, it is time the authorities overhauled safety protocols on all long-range transport, including trucks and buses. “If we can have a safety briefing for people on aeroplanes, we can have one for bus passengers,” said Jain. Referring to the July 1 accident in which 25 passengers died in a bus accident on Samruddhi in Buldhana, he said that every AC bus should have a hammer near each window to break the glass in emergencies. “The July 1 bus fell on its left side, blocking all doors. Deaths could have been avoided if passengers had a way to break through the glass windows.”
Anil Gaikwad joint MD (Engineering) of MSRDC said the authorities are in the process of setting up an access-control system which will monitor and instruct drivers through GPS. An intelligent traffic management system (ITMS) is also being developed in collaboration with South Korea to enable auto-identification of rule violations. Emphasizing the point on tyres once more, Chaudhari warned against looking for “great deals” while buying them. “I often see people purchasing tyres with longer lifespans. But tyres with long lives are often made of harder rubber. These hard-rubber tyres are not ‘sticky’, have considerable bounce to them, and have been known to damage suspension systems. Instead of absorbing impact, they pass along the stress to the shock absorbers. In effect, while being cheap in the long run, they damage more expensive components of a vehicle.”