Speed kills, so do speed-breakers

Road Humps at Gandhi bazaar in Bengaluru. Photo by S K Dinesh

Uneven and potholed, the road lies there unlit. Ahead, a string of unauthorized, unscientific, unmarked speed-breakers without a warning in sight awaits the next motorist. If this is not a recipe for definite death, what is?

Hypothetical, it is not. Out there inside Bengaluru’s labyrinthine network of arterial, sub-arterial, local and residential roads, this is a daily, dangerous reality. Unchecked and unregulated, the speed breakers have mushroomed all across town, violating every word in the Indian Road Congress (IRC) rulebook.

Warning signs

The IRC specifications are clear: Road humps in residential areas should be 3.7 m wide and 0.10 m high so that the gradient is gradual and not abrupt. Besides, the speed breakers should have clearly visible alternate black and white bands, with warning signboards placed 40 m ahead on both directions. This would give motorists enough time to slow down.

But this is just theory. Signboards are a rarity, speed breakers are hardly painted, and the humps – most of them unauthorised - seem designed to spark fatal accidents. Statistics prove that the deaths and injuries triggered by such illegalities are on the rise, even as new road humps keep emerging on the instructions of sundry shopkeepers, local residents and vested interests.

So, who is to blame? The Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the traffic police, the local powers or the elected representatives, many of whom dictate terms on how a road should be laid irrespective of the rules? If the Palike is expected to show where and how a model road hump should be installed, its recent installation of speed-breakers on the Outer Ring Road (ORR) offers no hope.

ORR road humps

For proof, one look at the big traffic congestions triggered daily by the road humps on the ORR stretch between Hebbal and K R Puram would suffice. The rubberised speed-breakers are about 50 mm high, a clear indication that the speeding vehicles would have to considerably slow down, switching to first gear. Result: Long, kilometre-long traffic pile-ups are now the norm.

Traffic and transport engineering expert M N Sreehari says speed-breakers should be avoided as far as possible on the main arterial roads, the ORR in particular. “Road humps need to be placed only on a minor crossroad, just ahead of its junction with a major road. The hump should be within three metres ahead of the intersection so that vehicles cannot accelerate again,” he explains.

Specifications prescribed

The speed-breaker itself should be located in a well-lit place, the light unobstructed by any tree or branch. “The central crust of the road hump should not exceed 15 cm. It should have a coat of reflective, thermo-plastic paint. At least two advance signboards should warn the motorist to slow down.”

The existing compromised system ensures that a road hump can be built anywhere on the whims and fancies of a contractor, a gangman or a corporator. Often, all it takes is a phone call from the interested party. A Thippasandra resident who was asked why a speed-breaker was necessary in front of his house, had this counter question: “Do you have a child in your house? I want my kids to be safe from speeding bikes.”

Fatal falls

But often, it is an unsuspecting motorcyclist who fall victim. Last year, a landmark Consumer Court verdict brought this to the fore. The court directed the city traffic police and the Urban Development Department to pay Rs 22 lakh for an unscientifically designed road hump that killed a software engineer, Surya Prakash G Chavan on February 23, 2008.

Returning home at midnight from his office on a motorcycle, Chavan had hit the speed-breaker near the BTM Layout bus stop. He fell, suffered a severe head injury and died enroute to the hospital. There were no signboards that warned Chavan.

In the decade since Chavan’s death, many more have died in accidents triggered by poorly designed road humps. Yet, the Palike has no count of such unscientific speed-breakers. The city currently has about 3,500 ‘scientific’ humps, as a Palike official informs.

BBMP’s claim

The official, attached to the Palike’s Traffic Engineering Cell (TEC), informs that BBMP builds the speed breakers on the request of the traffic police. “For any hump to come upon a road, the traffic police will have to notify the TEC. As per their need, we construct the humps following the Indian Road Congress rules,” says the official.

But he hastens to add that the Palike will never construct unscientific road humps. He blames local residents in some areas for such illegalities. So, what does the Palike do to get them removed?

Unfinished drive

A few years back, he says, the Palike had launched a drive that razed nearly 1,500 such impediments. “The Palike is planning to take up the drive again, based on complaints received from the people and traffic police,” the official says.

Poor inter-agency coordination has left many existing road humps damaged. Roads are repeatedly dug up but not patched up properly. “In this condition, we notify the agency concerned to rebuild the humps. But sometimes, these agencies fail to do and we are forced to construct the humps again.” Yet, this rebuilding process leaves a lot to be desired, as the ground reality shows so starkly.

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Speed kills, so do speed-breakers

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