Saturday , 8 August 2020

Managing Traffic and Tackling Safety during Highway Construction

Roads need to be rated as per certain benchmarks during road safety audits: Harish Mathur

For safety on highways and during highway construction, it is important to create a mindset of accountability. We, as construction companies, need to consider that safety on highways has become a serious social problem too. Apart from deaths, the disabilities due to accidents is also a serious problem. About 3% of our GDP is lost due to accidents. Urban areas constitute 10% of total road accident deaths. At IL&FS, we are trying to evolve some benchmarks so that we can rate roads during road safety audits. Otherwise, just rating roads as good, bad or satisfactory is not of much use. We will first implement this in our projects and then submit it to the government for its consideration.

About 30% of accidents take place on national highways whereas the rest take place on other roads – state highways, city roads and village roads. They don’t have big flyovers, 4-lane or six lane roads but the problem of unsafe roads and accidents exists there. So we have to come up with solutions for safety of these roads also. And the issues on these roads are different than those on highways. Since about 80% of accidents take place due to drivers’ mistakes, a conscious effort is now being made to educate drivers in road safety norms and discipline them. Road geometrics and road design constitute only 2% of the causes. To provide emergency medical care to accident victims during the critical golden hour, there should be a log of all the hospitals available on all the roads along with mobile numbers of doctors. On IL&FS road projects which constitute more than 10,000km of roads, we have made it mandatory for all the toll plazas and our road patrol vehicles to carry the complete list of all hospitals and dispensaries throughout the route and the mobile numbers of the doctors. Whenever an accident occurs, which is most often at night or early morning, we inform the doctors that there is a patient who is being admitted to a particular hospital. These simple measures can help save a lot of lives.

We should request NHAI also that once the DPR is prepared, the contract should contain provisions for safety measures, and the contractor should give proof of implementation of these safety measures. — Harish Mathur

We should request NHAI that once the DPR is prepared, the contract should contain provisions for safety measures, and the contractor should give proof of implementation of these safety measures. An amount on these safety measures should be pre-decided. An independent safety engineer should certify that the prescribed safety measures costing a particular amount have been implemented. Normally, the problem occurs when the contractor cuts certain provisions to save money, and the first casualty of this is usually safety. In case the concessionaire does not spend the required amount, his concession amount or annuity amount should be reduced correspondingly. This would keep the concessionaire in check and encourage him to spend on safety.

But more important is the post-construction safety aspect. India is the only country where accidents have increased with four-laning of roads. The problem is: we are widening the existing roads, but their merger is a problem, the weaving of traffic is a problem and roadside parking is a big problem. Many accidents are caused by drivers hitting vehicles parked on the roads, especially at night. We have appointed a safety officer for each of our projects, who is accountable for all the safety aspects of the project. We are also conducting safety campaigns on television and carrying out safety training programmes for NGOs and people. We have prepared a method or format for investigation of each and every accident.

The safety of each roads is judged on the basis of severity index and accidents per kilometre index. We have done an analysis for all our roads this way. From the eight sample graphs it was noticed that NKEL project has the highest severity index. Then, we do an analysis as to the reasons for this high index. All along the length we insert the info – what kind of accidents have taken place – fatal, severe, minor, etc. The second factor is the location of the accident – which stretches are more accident prone? Third factor is the reasons for the accident. One important factor in the accidents on the two-lane and four-lane roads is that drivers who overtake the other vehicles do not take into account the length of the vehicle they are overtaking, which may be 60 to 70 feet long. Due to this, they abandon the attempt to overtake halfway and meet with an accident with the vehicle coming from the opposite direction.

Another safety measure we have introduced is profile marking or cold therapy. This uses a special paint on the road, and already exists on roads in the West. Due to this paint, if a vehicle crosses a road marking it will give off a vibrating alert. We are in the process of importing this paint from Switzerland and putting on our roads – on the edges and in between on the two-lane roads so that the driver is alerted if he goes outside a marking. Another development is that we will be putting up vehicle speed readers, similar to police speed radars, along our roads, which will inform the motorists what speed they are going at.

ITS must be integrated into the highway system in advance for it to be effective: Terry Bergan

Accidents happen usually because somebody makes a mistake. There are ways to study accidents and by a statistical analysis, we may find that a particular curve or stretch of the road has a high rate of accidents. One reason for this could be that the stretch in question may have been designed improperly. Or may be the traffic has a tendency to speed up on that stretch. Therefore, road design, planning and enforcement are all important aspects of managing the traffic. What we specialise in is Intelligent Transportation Systems – using technology to make roads more efficient & safer and enable the traffic to move. And an important aspect of this is the driver and the decision that he makes during those crucial moments before an accident occurs.

Planning a highway involves static parameters but once traffic moves on the highway, there are dynamic factors involved. The dynamics have to do with the volume of traffic, the decisions that the drivers make and the environmental factors such as rain, fog or smog; or some special events due to which traffic on the highway increases dramatically, or in this case a highway under construction which in itself becomes dynamic because the construction can be something that moves along the highway. So the technology that we deal with monitors the traffic, the environmental factors; and through signs and signals (this part becomes interwoven with the original design of the highway), we can provide vital information to the drivers so that they can make better decisions before they get to the dangerous area of the highway. If that area is a dangerous curve, you inform the drivers well in advance that this is a dangerous curve, or you inform trucks that they are going on a steep gradient too fast. We can monitor the weight and dimensions of the vehicle, and as they go down the gradient, we can forewarn the vehicle that they are going too fast before they get into trouble.

The technology that we deal with monitors the traffic, the environmental factors; and through signs and signals (this part becomes interwoven with the original design of the highway), we can provide vital information to the drivers so that they can make better decisions before they get to the dangerous area of the highway. If that area is a dangerous curve, you inform the drivers well in advance that this is a dangerous curve, or you inform trucks that they are going on a steep gradient too fast. We can monitor the weight and dimensions of the vehicle, and as they go down the gradient, we can forewarn the vehicle that they are going too fast before they get into trouble. — Terry Bergan

Construction zones on highways are especially dangerous areas. We lost a few of our team members in horrible accidents in construction zones. This was during a special event in Illinois, USA, where there were other factors too – bad weather and wet pavement. Due to the special event, we had many people who wanted to get home very quickly. There was a construction zone and we were providing construction zone equipment which was moving along the highway. So the static signs such as “Construction Zone Ahead” did not work. The drivers saw the signs but saw no construction, so they did not slow down, even when they came to the actual construction sites which they must not have seen quickly enough due to lack of signage. So we did not have proper enforcement there. We did not have any information telling drivers that just half a kilometre ahead they would be delayed for 30 minutes due to the construction zone. One driver came along, did not believe the sign, did not physically see the construction, drove into the back of the construction vehicles, drove a few vehicles into construction equipment and subsequently killed two construction workers. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage and huge delay of five hours caused. So the economic impact was significant too. So many cars got delayed. This is where ITS helps – it can provide advance information to the vehicles that there is an accident ahead, which helps them avoid going there or take an alternative route. ITS can also inform drivers about weather changes and changes in traffic conditions. This is simple technology but has to be integrated into the highway system in advance for it to be effective. So it comes back to the question of planning. For example, the pedestrian crossing has to be planned in advance. Similarly we have to plan in advance that traffic will change during the course of the life of the transportation system and make provision for it.

 

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