The newly inaugurated Bengaluru-Mysuru expressway is a “fantastic piece of infrastructure” that the people of Karnataka should appreciate as it makes the journey between both cities comfortable and faster, Praveen Sood, Karnataka’s Director General of Police, said in an interview to News18.
The 10-lane expressway was formally inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 12, even though it has been partially opened up for motorists for close to four months.
The route has been mired with protests by farmers’ unions, taxi drivers, and commuters on the toll fee that is being charged even though the road has certain sections to be completed.
Sood feels that people should see the positive side of the infrastructure first. “We are looking for perfection in an imperfect world with imperfections within ourselves. That’s not right,” he said.
The police officer is of the opinion that building such world-class infrastructure emphasises the progress of a state and nation.
“I have seen many people finding fault in the infrastructure. But we must do some soul-searching on whether we as motorists are driving safely. People have not been given a licence to fly but a licence to drive,” said Sood on the issue of loss of lives on highways due to speeding.
Sood explained that when a highway is built, while it makes it a comfortable drive between cities like the new Bengaluru-Mysuru expressway and cuts down the time of travel, another major issue that is overlooked is how it impacts the lives of villagers in the surrounding areas.
“We have to understand that the highways run through a body of villages and cut them apart. The villagers who have been living there, with their fields, their children going to school, driving their tractors are unable to comprehend how a new piece of infrastructure has changed their lives. It literally cuts through their stomach. They try to cross highways unknown to the fact that the high speeding vehicles could hit them,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it is only when a life is lost that they understand,” he added.
The senior police officer stressed that most of the unfortunate deaths that take place on highways are due to speeding by motorists and not considering the plight of villagers through whose lands the highways have been built.
He also said high-speed expressways could cause a 50 to 60 per cent spike in accident-related deaths but put the onus on the motorists to maintain a maximum speed of 100-120 mph.
“The commuters tend to drive very, very fast. This may even lead to them colliding with each other as they are speeding out of control on the elevated expressway, leading to fatalities,” the top cop said.
Citing an example of what happened when the very same Bengaluru-Mysuru expressway was upgraded from a two-lane road to a four-lane highway in 2007, he said: “The fatalities went up to 300 per cent and the villagers could not comprehend that the highways were places which would involve high-speed vehicles. They would become victims of speeding while crossing roads.
He, however, noted that at the time, highways were not built with barricades on the sides to stop people or animals from crossing.
The new Bengaluru-Mysuru expressway is an elevated high-speed road that has been barricaded on both sides where it is on par with ground levels. Even though safety measures have been deployed to ensure that people and animals do not use the road to cut across to the other side, there could be fatalities, officials say.
“A villager cannot understand the fact that to go across to the other side of the village, he has to take a U-turn that may be one kilometre away on his bullock cart or tractor when he is used to cutting across the road in less than 100 meters. This is the problem with all highways in India,” Sood explained.
He drew similarities with the fatalities that were seen on the Hebbal-Bengaluru airport highway in 2014. One could reach the airport from Hebbal in less than 20 minutes, but it came with a lot of risks.
“On an average, we would shift four to five bodies every morning as people would have been run over by speeding vehicles. The local villagers who may have been drunk or unable to calculate the speed of the vehicle got knocked over and lost their lives,” the officer described.
Sood feels that there is a need to create awareness amongst the locals to be careful as high-speed expressways are the way to the future and “slowly, we need to adapt to such changes that also make people’s travel faster, more comfortable, and safer”.
Though the formal launch of the 10-lane Bengaluru Mysuru expressway was done in March, vehicle traffic had been allowed to ply on it since September 2020. Since then, over the last six months, statistics show that over 80 people lost their lives due to accidents on this stretch.
While most of the construction of the expressway has been completed, the stretch between Nidaghatta and Mysuru is in the last leg of completion. Most accidents have been reported in the Bidadi, Ramanagara, and Mandya stretches of the road, but mostly on the state highways. The deaths that have been reported on the expressway have been attributed to over-speeding by four-wheelers.
“Most of the vehicles are traveling between 120-140 mph. This is not safe for the driver or others traveling on the expressway. Many have lost control and that has led to fatalities,” explained a police officer from Ramanagara.
The majority of the accidents have taken place between Kumbalgodu and Nidlaghatta. Between December 2022 and January 2023, there have been 18 deaths of motorists and over 100 near-fatal accidents.
“The operative word is speed. Let’s not go berserk and become a fatality,” stressed Sood. He appealed to motorists to appreciate the infrastructure and make good use of it.
He also said that people have raised the question of why policemen have not been enforced to control over-speeding drivers but deploying cops on elevated expressways or high-speed highways is not easy or advisable.
“It will be a sad story if the police have to stand on the elevated expressway and keep a check. Not only is it not advisable, it could cause a risk to the officers as well. Drivers as other vehicles would be traveling at high speed and flagging them down in between could lead to vehicles running over the officers as well. I am not ready to put the lives of my officers at risk,” he emphasised.
“Be a sensitive, sensible, and sober driver,’ Sood advised.
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