Others like Avinash Awasthi remained trapped and perished along with 28 others. The clerk from Greater Noida had just bought a house in Lucknow. “The entire family had gathered for house warming. He kept saying he will catch up on his sleep on the bus,” says a relative.
Investigators say the driver of the double-decker UP Transport Corporation bus also appeared to have dozed off due to which the vehicle hit a divider and plunged 40 feet into a drain near Etmadpur. He too was killed in the accident.
Good Road, Bad Road
Cutting through farmland, the highway was built by Japypee Infratech at a cost of Rs 12,839 crore to connect the industrial towns of Noida and Agra and take the load off National Highway 19. Yet, since the highway opened in August 2012, there have been more than 5,700 accidents though the numbers have been gradually falling over the years, according to official data.
Why has the seven-year-old, state-ofthe-art road, managed by the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA), continued to remain risky for motorists? UP transport department officials put the blame on over-speeding, drivers dozing off, poor visibility during winters and bursting of overheated tyres.
The July 8 bus crash appears to have jolted the authorities too and they are back to the drawing board to find ways of increase passenger safety. “In a review meeting with the chief minister [Yogi Adityanath], it was decided that on routes longer than 8 hours, buses will have a reliever [a second driver]. Metal beam crash barriers will be placed on the road to prevent vehicles from overturning,” KK Singh, general manager-projects at YEIDA, told ET Magazine.
Other proposed measures to curb accidents, he said, include increasing the number of rumble strips, prominently displaying helpline numbers and stepping up vigil. Also, to avoid dozing off, motorists on the highway, who have had a full meal, should wait for 30 minutes before they start driving again, he said.
Ignoring Danger Signs
Regular commuters on the highway, however, point fingers towards the issues the authorities are ignoring. “The safety wires are cut up at some places to make passage for some illegal dhabas. Trucks often park in front of these eateries leading to accidents. These passages also let in nilgais on the expressway,” says Sharad Singh, who regularly travels on the road to go to his home town Agra. Road safety experts say YEIDA needs to set up tyre pressure checking facilities, test for drunken driving at toll gates and regularly check CCTV camera footage.
The quality of driving must also be checked and standardised, says Girish Kukreti, director, Institute for Road Safety and Fleet Management in New Delhi. “The sad part about such fatalities is that they end up becoming mere statistics after a while. A major problem lies in the way our drivers are trained. Those who are training are themselves untrained. Invariably we hear that ‘my uncle-father-brother-relative taught me driving’. As a result everyone drives differently. There is no standardisation,” he says.
A 2018 road safety audit of Yamuna Expressway by the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi has listed several measures for better speed compliance. This includes increasing the number of speed guns and cameras, the height of guard rails and replacing the current medians with flush medians, fining vehicles that switch lanes, or drive without tail lights or speed along entry and exit ramps.
UP Police officials, on the condition of anonymity, narrate the real picture of the safety level of Yamuna Expressway. “There aren’t enough roadside facilities such as restrooms and tea outlets, many of the cameras meant for capturing vehicle images aren’t working and tree branches can be seen hanging in front of the roadside cameras,” says an inspector, who was on duty at Yamuna Expressway till June. This year itself, the highway has seen 247 accidents and 127 deaths.
The UP government’s target is to have zero accidents in the long term, transport minister Swatantra Dev Singh told ET Magazine. “Drivers’ health checkup, particularly eye examination, and vehicle fitness test will be done from time to time. No fuel will be provided to drivers not wearing seat belts. The chief minister himself will review the situation every three months.” Singh said restrooms for drivers are also being developed along the Yamuna Expressway and other highways. “And if taking a nap after a meal is not possible, drivers of passenger or commercial vehicles can do a quick vajrasana that helps in digestion to stay alert.”