|Until November last year, 259 accidents took place on the|
expressway, killing 142 people. (HT File Photo)
by Farhan Shaikh, Mumbai, Hindustan Times, 8 January 2017
What would you prefer, an accident-free road trip or a WiFi connection on one of the most dangerous routes in Maharashtra? As the state road development corporation seemed to have prioritised internet connectivity over road safety along Mumbai-Pune Expressway, experts have termed this move a political gimmick.
Ahead of Road Safety Week, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has started inviting telecom operators to enable WiFi support on the 94-km stretch.
Transport expert Sulakshana Mahajan said, “The discipline among drivers is already quite poor. Giving them access to WiFis is adding a dangerous element into the mix. I think this is merely a political gimmick.”
Until November last year, 259 accidents took place on the expressway, killing 142 people. The accidents left 170 injured, of which 144 sustained severe injuries, according to Maharashtra highway police.
“Safety and comfort is the transport sector’s last priority. If the authority plans to provide commuters with information about travel routes, and needs WiFi to do so, only then is it useful. However, even this defies road safety norms as we advise drivers not to use their phones while driving. The corporation just wants to spend money on something that is completely unnecessary,” Mahajan added.
Mahajan said that as the roads have not been properly planned, funds should be invested into rectifying this, rather than introducing WiFi on the stretch.
“We have invited telecom operators to give us a detailed plan regarding which areas can be made WiFi zones,” said Kiran Kurundkar, joint managing director, MSRDC, on Wednesday.
According to Kurundkar, the WiFi network will help them and the state highway police monitor CCTV camera footage along the expressway and at the toll booths in real time. The number of WiFi zones or hotspots are yet to be finalised.
Allka Shah, who is on the road safety advisory committee of the Mumbai traffic police and the Maharashtra highway police said, “Over the past year, most of the road accident victims have died owing to someone else’s fault. Speeding is also one of the reasons behind the crashes. The government should carry out productive audits at accident-prone spots. However, even after audits are held, the government’s plans only remain on paper and are not implemented.
As tuck drivers form a considerable chunk of commuters on the expressway, Shah said the authorities should pay attention to whether these drivers are fit enough to take the wheel. “These drivers should get eight-hour shifts. I have requested the authorities to install bunkers so that drivers can rest along the highway. However, they are not providing us with any facilities even though they continue to collect tolls,” she said.
Experts reiterated that if enforcement is efficient, only then will the driving culture and safety be made a priority.