Yes, speed does kill. But here’s the thing, speed is relative – an aircraft flying at 500kph is considered slow, 120kph on a well-designed road could be considered slow and safe, maybe even safer than doing 50kph on a badly designed one. But, as is typically the case, the cause of accidents is, more often than not, attributed to speed. Other factors like road discipline, driver training, vehicle condition, road markings and design are simply neglected.
Couple of months ago, I passed by an accident site where a truck had driven off the road – the driver was descending a slope and he didn’t see the right-hander ahead; clearly a case of speeding, then, or perhaps brake failure. However, it wasn’t, as a policeman on site informed me. The accident happened at night, the truck was descending quite slow – below the indicated 40kph speed limit. This, however, was an unlit section of the road and the sign for the sharp right was knocked over. With poor headlights (my conclusion, seeing the aged truck) and blinded by oncoming vehicles’ headlights, the driver said he simply didn’t see the turn until it was too late to stop his 20-tonne truck.
Now if the road was well-lit and the road sign was present; or if the central divider was high enough to block out the bright oncoming headlights; or if the truck’s headlights were working well; if somehow, miraculously, all of this was as it were meant to be, then this may not have been an accident, just a simple turn around a bend. There are hundreds of such accidents happening every week on Indian roads, where speed isn’t the prime cause. Of course, it’s one factor – higher the speed, shorter your reaction time – but this is one among many factors. Yet we neglect factors like deplorable road conditions, unmarked surfaces, driving licenses being handed out to all and any, and poor vehicle condition.
Germany, with its largely unrestricted Autobahns and higher speed limits, has a far lower accident death rate than India. In 2016, India had 113.9 fatalities per 10 lakh inhabitants, against Germany’s figure of 38.8 (source OECD).
If we are serious about reducing the number of accidents, we’ve got to get past whitewash measures like the government’s upcoming mandatory speed warning system, which Maruti has already fitted on its new Ciaz. With this system in place, expect your car to beep twice every 60 seconds if you go over 80kph, and then continuously at speeds above 120kph; and, no, this can’t be turned off. The funny thing is, we are going with the New Delhi-Mumbai high-speed highway that’ll cut travel time down to 12 hours with speeds over 120kph.
Let’s not forget, speed is a huge contributor to the quick and efficient movement of people and goods. And so travel designed for safe high speeds is certainly going to be a far more effective and sensible solution rather than implementing arbitrary speed limits on poorly designed roads, badly maintained vehicles and ill-trained drivers. With these, there will always be chaos, no matter whatever the beeeeeeep!
A speed warning system will soon be mandatory on all cars.
Government makes a U-turn on speed governors