A horrendous head-on collision between a bus and truck on the Hubballi-Dharwad bypass link road on National Highway 48, killed eight and injured 26 on Monday night. The accident raises several questions on the aspects of safety about driving on Indian highways. This particular segment that stretches over 32 kilometres can contest for inclusion in the most dangerous roads in the country, not that it is treacherous but because it has just two lanes—each in the opposite direction. This is the only stretch on the 2,807 km-long NH 48 (from Delhi to Tamil Nadu, passing through Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka) that is a two-lane segment. Work to expand it is yet to begin after the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) called for tenders to widen it into a six-lane road.
India’s national highways and expressways have seen more than 1.16 lakh accidents with 47,984 fatalities in 2020 alone, the Parliament was informed on 22 December 2021. According to NHAI data on highway segments where the most number of accidents take place—referred to as ‘black spots’—Tamil Nadu has the most with 496, followed by West Bengal (450) and Karnataka (408). The NHAI is said to have rectified 61% of the black spots on national highways across India.
The rectification involves adding safety features like expanding roads and their shoulders, adding medians, installing reflectors and signage, culvert protection barricades, among others. However, a significant cause behind these accidents—fatal or otherwise—are the motorists themselves. What adds to the danger of driving is the common Indian motorist’s behaviour. They seem to be in a huge hurry when they take control of a vehicle. The urge to overtake other vehicles at high speeds on highways is a danger even on multi-lane roads with adequate space for each lane.
While the NHAI is trying to reduce black spots, the Central and state governments need to put in place a strict enforcement mechanism using sophisticated technologies to maintain surveillance on negligent and overspeeding drivers on the highways. Violators have to be strictly penalised. While enforcement exists in cities and towns to an extent, it is conspicuous by its absence on the highways. And that is proving costly.