Speed & Control

Posted: January 29, 2010 in Misc.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

This post was prompted by a tweet by @girishmallya and the response from @sumants. Quickly collecting my thoughts here on why we need speed limits & enforce them.

The original tweet from Girish that I RTed:

And Sumant’s response that I wanted to reply to, but couldn’t (had to head out with no charge on the phone)

My original tweet response (never sent): “The speed limit is to ensure that even the least able/equipped driver on the road stays in control, and IMO must be strictly enforced”

Comment: I completely agree with Sumant that ‘speed != rash driving’. I also agree that the problem isn’t speeding, but the lack of control (and at times, confidence in their vehicles) that causes many accidents. However, I still insist on speed limits, and their strict enforcement.

Loooooong explanation of my position: Let’s begin with the base: just one bad driver (or out of control car) is required to cause an accident involving any number of cars. The road rules, therefore, need to be designed to prevent that one car going out-of-control and thus need to be based on the least skilled driver & the least equipped vehicle.

After all it doesn’t matter if you are the safest driver in the world driving a modern car with all driving aids possible if a rogue car comes and hits you. The rules, for all, need to be based at the rogue’s comfort level, not yours.

If you still believe the speeds are too slow, there are two primary reasons.

The first reason is wide variety of vehicles, even within just passenger cars, on our roads. We, the twitterati and the chattering classes are usually the better off ones. Most of our cars have three features that make a lot of difference:
a) Power Steering
b) ABS or even full electronic traction control
c)  Wider tyres, usually radials

These three things, more than anything else, enable safer and stronger control over the car for people like us.

However, the same roads also see, more than anything else, the Premier Padmini. Better known as the Fiat taxi. Those cars have
a) Manual (non-powered) steering, usually with  heavy tyre mis-alignment
b) Wearing out brakes based on a 2-decade old design
c) Thin tyres, usually barely road worthy

Heck, many M800s, Altos and Santros too don’t have them.

A speed of 80 kmph may be a very comfortable cruising speed for me on my Jazz, perhaps even sub-optimal.  However, the same speed can be almost deadly for most of these Fiat cabs that flood our roads.

The second reason is the wide variety in abilities of drivers, and their confidence in their vehicles. And this is relevant for 3 sets of drivers more than anything else:
a) New car owners / newly learnt driving
b) Chauffeurs
c) Outstation drivers

Most of us, the twitter generation, learn/t driving at a pretty early age and are confident of our skills & the cars by now. However, not every driver on the road has been driving for the last 2 decades. Given the fast transition that our economy’s going through, and the way car ownership has jumped, there are a lot of new drivers out there. Some, agreed, may be young (fast learners) or naturally skilled. But most of them are inexperienced, unsure of their abilities and apprehensive of their cars abilities.

It is for these drivers, who lose control at high speeds unsure of themselves and/or their cars, that the speed rules need to be drafted. Of course, a lot of this skill/confidence problem could be solved if our RTOs became serious about testing drivers before handing out the license. But, that’s an issue for another post on a different problem.

This skill/confidence is also the reason, that though our cabs are the least equipped vehicles on the road, they see the least accidents. Long hours at the wheel have given their drivers the confidence in the vehicles as well as taught them the limits of their wheels. New car owners, on the other hand, are still many hundred hours of driving away from that confidence.

Another small population segment that corrupts our roads is the ‘Chauffeur’. In our country, it requires only a small payment and no skill to get a driver’s license. But due to the great paucity of drivers for private cars, this license opens up a decent paying job opportunity in a city like Bombay. Just like the new car owners, or people who learnt driving very late in their lives, this segment too is not very experienced on the wheel. Hence, the same risks. Yes, many chauffeurs are highly experienced, but there’s a good number of noobies as well. And the sad part is that these noobs, being cheaper to hire, usually drive the lower (and lesser driver-friendly) models. It can be a lethal combination at times.

Finally, our cities also have a huge daily influx of out station drivers – businessman driving down from Vapi for work, family driving up from Kolad for sightseeing, political supporters from Akola and even boys from Nasik coming over to party. Each of these drivers may be used to their vehicles, confident of their abilities and used to the road rules. However, they still are not accustomed to the flood of traffic in our city and the narrow roads, basically the unfamiliar environment. They, thus need to be slowed down to a speed where, even in these unfamiliar (sometimes plain crazy) surroundings, they can comfortably handle the car.

The End.

That’s the end of my explanation but wanted to share another piece which you may have already seen. This is a CCTV recording from an accident on the Bandra Worli Sea Link, about a month after the fatal one that made the headlines.

It’s visible that the accident happened due to loss of control at high speed. The white Swift may or may not have been nudged by the SUV behind it, but it’s clear one big factor was speed (such a slight nudge can hardly cause a heavy Swift swerve at the current speed limit of under 50 kmph).

Apart from using it as an example, this accident is also important as the resultant jam on #bwsl made me late (despite leaving 40 mins too early) for the only interview I’ve looked forward to recently. No, didn’t get the position. Not so far, atleast.

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