Khin Maung Myint
Lately, there were news of traffic accidents in the media almost every day. Most of them happened on the Yangon — Mandalay expressway and most resulted in fatalities. Because of the frequent accidents along that expressway, it is becoming notorious and some even dubbed it “The Death Highway”.
According to the latest WHO report there were over ten thousand fatalities from traffic accidents in Myanmar during last year; which is quite high. The traffic accidents are undesirable, thus although they cannot be totally eradicated, the lesser would be better. So, we should try to minimize the traffic accidents.
Some forty years ago, I came to know a traffic police officer. He was a senior officer in those days in his profession, not in terms of rank, but in service and experience. He had attended some workshop seminars and trainings related to his profession, in foreign countries. On one occasion, during a conversation with him, I learned a very interesting lesson concerning the road safety.
He was opening his heart to me, and told me that they were becoming scapegoats for the traffic accidents that were on the rise in those days. He said they were being blamed for laxity in enforcing the traffic rules and regulations. He told me that according to the common concepts, the road safety depends on “the three Es”.
The first E, according to him is engineering. That is the engineering aspect of the road constructions. The roads must satisfy the road-safety standards required. The second E is educating the public, drivers as well as the pedestrians, to observe the traffic rules and regulations. The pedestrians need to know certain traffic rules and signs to avoid being involved in accidents. The third and last E is the enforcement, which is the main duty of the traffic police.
In those days, almost all the roads and streets in the cities and towns and the highways all over the country were sub-standards with potholes and damaged or no road shoulders. Also some road surfaces don’t have the necessary camber to drain the rain water, which resulted in the formations of potholes and damages to the road shoulders. Such situations made the drivers to abruptly avoid the potholes and damaged road shoulders that caused accidents. That is why the first E or the proper engineering works are necessary.
The second E, which stands for educating is also important. In most countries, departments similar to our Road Transport Department are responsible for educating and testing the would-be drivers before issuing driving liscences. Most accidents were caused by human errors or negligences or ignorances, thus educating the public, both drivers and the pedestrians alike, is very important. It is common knowledge that accidents are mainly caused by:-
1. Reckless driving,
2. Drunken driving.
3. Over speeding.
4. Using mobile phones without hand-free equipments while driving.
5. Falling asleep while driving.
6. Undisciplined road crossing or jay-walking by the pedestrians.
7. Ignorance or disregard for road signs and car signal lights on the part of the pedestrians.
8. Reluctance to use the zebra-crissings and overhead pedestrian passes.
The third E, is the enforcement, which is the duty of the traffic police and the judiciary as well. Without enforcement, law and order wouldn’t prevail. However, enforcement doesn’t necessarily mean just taking actions. Any other means to make the public to observe the traffic rules and regulations are also effective. For instance, life-sized figurines of traffic police placed on the sidewalks at vital spots in Bangkok are very effective in making the speeding cars to slowdown. When viewed from a distance, the drivers cannot differentiate a dummy form the real traffic police. Also the presence of close circuit television (CCTV) cameras proved effective in preventing the drivers from running the red lights, which could cause serious collisions. At one time the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration even installed fake CCTV cameras as the genuine ones were very expensive. Those fakes also proved to be effective too.
As for the frequent fatal road accidents on the Yangon–Mandalay expressway, which is becoming notorious as “The Death Highway”, they are caused mostly due to the engineering faults. The second cause is due to the human factors. Based on my meager knowledge about road constructions, a perfect road must have an appropriate cambered surface and the curves in the road must have the specified superelevations at the outer edge of the curves.The superelevation is the amount by which the outer edge of a curve on a road is banked above the inner edge to counter act the centrifugal force, which has the tendency to overturn the vehicles negotiating the curve.
The cement concrete surfaces, unlike the asphalt concrete surfaces, create much more frictions. As friction caused the tyres to heat up easily and extensively, the air pressure in them increased to the point of bursting. That will cause the car to swerve uncontrollably and either overturn or collide with other vehicles or objects. The dangers of the tyres overheating could be reduced if they are inflated with nitrogen, a fact most drivers are not aware.
As for the human factors that cause car accidents, they can take many forms. Reckless driving, speeding, drunken driving, over speeding, falling asleep at the steering wheel while driving, or talking on the mobile phone while driving are the most common causes of accidents. Also failures to check the conditions of the tyres, brakes and the steering mechanisms before journeying along the expressways also can lead to accidents.
In conclusion, I would like to suggest that periodical and random checks for alcohol intakes of the drivers be carried out. Speed checks also should be made often and CCTV cameras and speed monitoring sensors that can automatically transmit, via the Internet, the data and images to the nearest highway police stations ahead should also be installed. Above all, if the expressway or highway roads are constructed according to the engineering specifications and use the correct materials, accidents could be reduced significantly. Also if the public is well informed about the things concerning road safety, they would contribute much to reducing accidents. These combined with effective enforcements would produce good results in minimizing the traffic accidents. Thus, if the three Es could be systematically and properly adhered to, by all concerned, the road accidents would be significantly reduced, sparing many lives and limbs.