Saturday, December 14, 2002
G O O D  M O T O R I N G

Beware of speed-breakers!
H. Kishie Singh

THE news on TV showed an army convoy on the move. The vehicles had to cross a speed-breaker and therefore every vehicle ó trucks and jeeps ó had to slow down almost to a halt and then proceed. So much for quick mobility and fast movement of troops. Abroad, speed-breakers are referred to as sleeping policemen i.e. serving little purpose. With the police, fire services and ambulances objecting to speed-breakers, they have all but disappeared from roads.

Another dangerous type of speed-breaker is the rumble strip. This is a series of small speed-breakers placed close to each other. The railway crossing on NH22 between Kalka and Dharampur have this on both sides. While approaching from Dharampur, you have the rumble strips on a curve.

While going around a curve, the weight of the car shifts on two wheels. You may also be braking to slow the car down. With all this happening at the same time, if you hit a set of rumble strips then there is a chance of the vehicle getting de-stabilised and going out of control and crashing. Thatís why rumble strips are banned abroad.


In India there is no law or rule about speed-breakers or who can construct them. Residential colonies put them up at random. In Uttar Pradesh, every village has taken upon itself to build speed-breakers. There is no warning and the height varies. It is not unusual to keep scraping the silencer repeatedly all day long and have a welding job done by the evening. A loaded car is more prone to damage.

They do serve some purpose ó they break your speed, they may also break your car. Beware of speed-breakers!

Abroad it is mandatory to carry a reflective red triangle in the car along with a tool kit. In case of an emergency, this reflective red triangle should be placed about 50 metres behind the vehicle. It serves as a warning to approaching cars that there is an obstacle on the road. Watch out! Slow down! This aspect of road safety is unknown in this country.

When you come across a road repair crew, you find workers squatting on the road right next to a red flag, not even a metre away. This is particularly dangerous at the roundabout. You are on the person without any warning, the red flag is of no use. You may hit the flag plus the person holding it or working right next to it.

This happens because you had no warning. No reaction time. Not enough time or distance to stop.

In the accompanying chart, the think time and stopping distance are shown. This distance is calculated under ideal conditions i.e. the tyres are in A1 conditions, the brakes are in A1 condition and the test is carried out on dry tarmac. Most important, the driver is alert and aware of the test. His concentration is completely focused on the job at hand.

These ideal conditions hardly ever exist on the road. Tyres may be in poor condition, brakes may not be in A1 condition and the road could be wet, pot-holed or strewn with gravel. Most important, the driverís concentration could be wavering. Donít we see so many drivers gesticulating with their hands and turning their heads sideways to talk to passengers. It is for this reason cell-phones are banned while driving. They distract the driver, increasing the reaction or thinking time.

The way the police sets up nakas is quite diabolical. They get a vicarious thrill by putting up tree trunks and huge rocks across the road. I have seen a bus chassis placed across the road. Tar barrels, full of mud, are a common sight. They will stop you dead. Pun not intended!

On two occasions I have gone straight into the wire mesh barrier the police has left on the NH1. On a dark winter night, fog, slight drizzle, wet road, bad visibility were all against me. I had an accident.

During the formula one races, it is not unusual to have a super-car leave the track at 300 km. p.h. and into the tyre wall. The tyres are so placed that they absorb the impact of the car coming at an incredible speed. The driver just casually walks away ó safe! Surely a well-constructed tyre wall at naka points wonít hurt a car at 60-70 km. p.h.

All tyre manufacturers in the country make claims about attaining success in rallies. It would be easy for them to "invent" a tyre wall from their experience gained abroad and use the same at nakas on our roads. It would be a tremendous safety feature. Tyres can also be placed strategically at round abouts and sharp curves.

Happy motoring!