In Retrospect

Killer e-way: Faulty design to blame?

The possible factors that are leading to the increase in fatal accidents on the Yamuna Expressway over the past five years and some ways to avoid them.

The Yamuna Expressway, besides being one of the finest super-highways in the country is one of the most accident-prone roads too. Though driving through the expressway is a delight for speed lovers as they can speed up their cars to enjoy a long drive, the consolidated figures of accident fatalities on the expressway in past five years have raised questions on its erroneous design and its maintenance by the concessionaire Jaypee Group.

Yamuna Expressway is a six-lane, 165 kilometres long road connecting Greater Noida with Agra. The e-way passes through five Uttar Pradesh districts of Gautam Budh Nagar, Aligarh, Mathura, Hathras, and Agra. The vehicles on this road move faster and smoother which eventually cuts short the commuting time from Delhi to Taj Mahal to as little as two hours. The expressway has helped in promoting tourism as well.
Built by Jaypee Group under the private-public-partnership with the Uttar Pradesh government, the expressway had a project cost of nearly Rs 13,000 crore and is now estimated to be used by 1 lakh cars each day, but during the winter season, the number drops due to fog in the region.

Even though the permissible speed limit on the stretch is 60kmph for trucks and 100kmph for cars and other four-wheelers, every year there is a massive pile-up of cars on the expressway because of low visibility, leading to major accidents and claiming lives. This highway has witnessed a large number of accidents since it was opened, and most of them have been due to tire bursts. About 548 lives have been lost to fatal road accidents on the Yamuna Expressway in past five years. There have been a staggering 4,054 accidents since the expressway opened in August 2012.

As per the reply to an RTI query, "In 2012 the number of deaths was 33 from 275 accidents. The figures for 2013 state 118 deaths from 896 accidents; in 2014 the number of accidents increased to 771 resulting in 127 deaths, while in 2015, 142 people lost their lives in 919 accidents."

The concrete and cement roads cause tires to heat up excessively in summers leading to tire bursts, while dense fog which reduces the visibility to as low as 50 meters in chilling winters lead to frequent fatal accidents on the road. Thus the lives of the commuters always remain stuck in their throats while travelling through the e-way whether be it during the winter or summer. About 85 per cent of the road has been built using concrete and cement. This is good for causing friction and avoids skidding, but as a drawback, it causes excessive heating of the tires and as a result, when a car travels at a very high speed, the tires get overheated causing an increase in the tire pressure bursting it.

There are accidents on the expressway almost regularly. "I started from Noida to Agra in the morning. It was 27 degree in the day, which is not enough hot to cause tire bursting. As it was a new vehicle I did not exceed the speed limit but driving continuously for about two hours when we were about to reach Agra one of my car's tires burst. As I was not driving at a high speed I suffered minor injuries and my car banged into a pole after losing balanced. It was very fortunate that no casualty happened. It was a new vehicle bought in January, therefore it could not have been a case of bad tires. Concrete roads are meant for the internal roads in sectors, not expressways. I think the government should take note at the earliest," said a commuter who suffered a tire burst at Yamuna Expressway.

When Millennium Post took a survey of Yamuna Expressway the results were really shocking for us too. We drove a Mahindra XUV500 car from Zero Point Greater Noida to Agra with two persons on board and a moderate quantity of luggage. As the car was installed with Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TMPS), it was easy for us to monitor the pressure of air and temperature of the tires, as it was displayed on the speedometer, without stopping the vehicle.

The car was checked to be in perfectly good condition. The tire pressure was checked to be 28 psi. The car was driven at 100-110 kmph on the road. On reaching Agra, the car was rechecked. To our shock, the tire pressure had become 48 psi and the tire temperature was well above 80 degrees. Hence very close to the chances of getting a tire burst. Some experts may comment that the tire pressure cannot exceed to such a limit so we drove the same vehicle under same conditions on bitumen highway as well. Any owner of XUV500 W10 can reconfirm and corroborate. While cruising at the same speed band on bitumen highway under same conditions the tires did not register a temperature above 55-60 degree, even in the peak summers.

Also with an attempt to get a better average out of the car, car owners prefer having slightly higher than suggested pressure. This already high level escalates quickly causing tire bursts and accidents. "Concrete roads are generally rougher and have numerous expansion joints. These joints are filled with bitumen, which degrades over time and leaves fairly large gaps which cause enormous strains on the tires. One can easily feel and hear them when the wheels get over them. When subjected to these constant high-speed shocks, they get weaker leading to a tire burst," say experts.

Another major reason for road accidents on Yamuna Expressway is the power performance of the modern and hi-tech cars running on the e-way. The combination of modern cars capable of very high speeds and multi-lane highways has led to the average speed of the vehicles running on the highway go up substantially. The driver of such a car tries to array the muscles of their vehicle by driving it to over 150-180kph. Unaware of the flaws in the way ahead the driver exceeds the speed limit to an uncontrollable extent thus causing a mishap.

Even though the speed limit set for cars is 100kph in the Yamuna expressway there is no proper monitoring system to penalise violators. One can freely violate the speed limitations set for the Yamuna expressway since the concessionaire and the traffic controllers seem to be less bothered about road safety and rules. We have hardly seen someone getting booked for over speeding on Yamuna Expressway.

It seems like the highway patrolling police, which is owned by the Jaypee Group itself, intentionally try to ignore these speeding cars thinking them to be beyond their status. Which reminds us of a scene from a Hollywood movie where the cops have a device to track the speed of a vehicle and ignore an over speeding sports car after detecting that the vehicle was driven at a speed beyond their status!

Till date, there is no mechanism to monitor the speed of vehicles and book them promptly. Against the mandated speed of 100 kmph, most vehicles cross 150 kmph. This is reflected at display boards at the toll plazas but no action is taken. Obviously, four-wheelers running at such high speed lose balance or their tires overheat and burst, causing accidents. Some drivers have also reported that the 'cat's eye' embedded in the road are uneven and pointed which also weakens the tires.

Even after several warnings and damnation by the High Court and Regional Authority, the laxity and negligence of Jaypee Group in the maintenance of Yamuna expressway seems nowhere to be improving. Every other day there are a couple of fatal incidents on the highway, a majority of which occur due to the carelessness of the managing and operating authority.

Yamuna expressway is fenced all through to avoid any entrance of humans or animals on the road. Despite this, locals have removed the fence from certain areas to ease themselves reaching their home by covering shorter distance. People are often found crossing the highway which invites such lethal accidents. Through these hidden entrances, wild animals like blue bulls also come on to the e-way causing accidents.

The management is totally unaware of these illegal entrances to this fast moving road. Even drivers are unaware of such pedestrians and animals making their way into the expressway. They travel at a constant speed until they see a man or animal suddenly on the road in front of their vehicle. While driving on such roads one must be extra cautious and should drive safe for their own and other's well being. the possible factors that are leading to the increase in fatal accidents on the Yamuna Expressway over the past five years and some ways to avoid them
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