ROADS & HIGHWAYS

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The dominion of road safety in India is tricky terrain. A mix of defined protocols and undefined procedures makes it difficult to navigate. However, thanks to global best practices that enhance the safety of design and encourage the use of digital tools, the scenario is set to change. Car...

The dominion of road safety in India is tricky terrain. A mix of defined protocols and undefined procedures makes it difficult to navigate. However, thanks to global best practices that enhance the safety of design and encourage the use of digital tools, the scenario is set to change. Cars crashing into each other may look quite enticing in a Rohit Shetty movie but in real life it’s something you want to steer away from. On average, around 472,606 road accidents in India annually result in the death of almost 149,472 individuals across different age groups. So, as we become eager to build more roads and highways, we should be equally keen on making them safe for use. The problem arises because there is always a compromise when it comes to safety and the standard of design. Much of it has to do with the talent pool at work as well as the enthusiasm to create and deliver the right solutions. “We need to employ the right kind of civil engineers who can come up with precise and innovative solutions to address present-day safety challenges,” says Vipul Surana, Regional Director – Transport AECOM.“Right now, the safety part of the road-building narrative is suffering from low enthusiasm and hence the results are not up to the mark as desired by the authorities even though we have the right digital tools in place.” Many of the design standards and codes we have been following in road safety are borrowed from Europe. IRC 73 and IRC 86 are in use even today but implementation of these codes is a problem. More so because in many projects it becomes difficult to go by the book entailing deviation and there are no specific guidelines for deviation of standards, the impact on safety and ways and methods to mitigate it. Ajay Alshetty, Managing Director, Nirvayam Engineering,believes this problem can be resolved by taking a cue from the practices followed in the US. “In the US, there is a chapter called ‘Departure from Standards’, which also assigns the liability in such cases either to the operator, police, government, designer or the contractor. An effort is made to eliminate the risk by having extra protocols or elements in place and if something is left out, the responsibility for the same is assigned to the operations side completely. A similar mechanism needs to be implemented in India.” Even in cases where deviation is not desired, the design itself has to undergo risk assessment for all the phases of construction,after which design audits need to be done before actual construction starts. For facilitating such developments, Alshetty believes the road safety auditor needs to get involved in the project earlier; likewise, files for health and safety, project risk and O&M need to be created. On the basis of these assessments, a ‘traffic regulation order’ is also issued, which has much to do with how the road needs to be used. This order then needs to be passed on to the police so that they can regulate the road in a proper way as mandated by its design. Apart from protocols for roads that continue to be a work in progress even for existing road projects where the rate of fatality is augmented by accidents, it is necessary to understand the root causes. As Rohan Govardhan, Project Manager – Forensic Crash Investigation and RASSI Accident Reconstruction Head, JPRI, says, “It is essential to find out what kind of design irregularities led to the accident; such forensic assessments need to be done by third-party scientific agencies. Road safety audits should be made mandatory before, during and after the design stage. During construction, many crashes are caused as the work zone is not completely marked and there is absence of proper signages as well as proper diversion of traffic. Post construction evaluation should be done on a continual basis and necessary steps need to be taken to keep roads safer.” In India, the dense urban landscape has a fair share of road development projects. In such projects, getting the requisite amount of land keeping in view safety protocols tends to be a complex affair. Pravin Bhandekar, Executive Engineer, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), agrees that land acquisition in key urban areas is tough. However, he is quick to add that MMRDA is an expert in managing these complex issues. “For all our projects, including metro projects, road safety audits have been put in place. Especially in metro projects, land acquisition is quite a task. To avoid time and cost overruns, the design too tends to get compromised.But having said that, we ensure the specifics as mentioned in the road safety guidelines are not overstepped. Likewise, we bring into play induction of speed breakers and signaling systems to key in the factor of safety when the design gets altered.” Over time, the evolution of such methods and techniques to keep roads safer by way of additional protocols and tools will continue. Meanwhile, it is also important to note the impact of data and digitisation that can be utilised to enhance road safety. “During construction, a lot of data is generated and one needs to create a connected and common data environment, right from the design stage to execution, connecting all the stakeholders together to make the project safer,” elaborates NiradNunna, Consultant, Construct Helix, Bentley Systems.To ensure this happens, technology needs to connect all the data points required for execution of road projects. Further, this should be easy to use. A provision is required in such digital tools for filed updates from different field engineers for real-time collaboration with multiple stakeholders. This will enable the team to build faster without compromising on quality. Bentley’s products allow the end user to create simulated digital twins of highly complex road projects for automated testing and take sound decisions. This impacts all the key areas involved in road-building, enhancing the factor of safety as well.” This apart, we the people also have a significant role to play in ensuring road safety. The next time you are on a bike or driving a four-wheeler ensure you are wearing your helmet and the seatbelts are on. Many accidents are also a result of over-speeding under the impact of alcohol, substance abuse or simply a disoriented mindset on an ego trip. Let’s remember that the thrill of driving lies not in augmenting the velocity of your vehicle but rather reaching your destination safely.

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