Tragic Highway Mishaps in Manipur
As an ominous onset of this spring equinox, Monday the 27 March was a horrific day for road travelers in Manipur state when three tragic road mishaps took place of which the one near Maram in Senapati district is not far away from Kohima. Social media was very prompt in reporting the accident with photographic detail of the mishaps. Looking at the nature of the accident, the vehicle did not turn turtle nor rolled over even once but had plunged and landed headlong which indicated it was speeding. Had the bus been driven slow it would have simply roll down the cleft. Although the body of the bus is intact, the casualties are more as most of the passengers must have been asleep at this early morning hours and the landing impact would have cause their body as canon ball slamming against the back of the seat without fastened seat belt. Reading through the accident report in our local paper, my attention was caught on the photograph of the accident bus MN01-4A-9503 that lay plunged headlong on its right side giving a clear overview of the left side of the body intake except the front axle assembly along with the wheels being snapped and fallen. At the first glance of the bus body, the rear overhang body looks too long even on apparent observation. Curiosity urged me to measure the wheel base of the bus and the rear overhang from the photograph of the vehicle where estimation of the rear overhang is worked out around 71 % against the permissible 60% of the wheel base under Rule 93 (6) CMV Rules, 1989.
The permissible rear overhang of 60% of the vehicle wheel base is arrived to maintain a safe balanced distribution of laden weight between the front and the rear in conventional truck chassis but in the LPT series the loading has to be less in the rear for stability of the laden weight balance while in motion. The luxury segments of the bus body are constructed with long rear overhang which in the cases of shorter wheel base are intentionally made exceeding the permissible 60% in order to get more seating capacity but endangering stability of the vehicle. In the Super Deluxe/Luxury buses the rear overhang body below the elevated floor is use as luggage boot therefore if heavy goods are loaded in the overhang body, front part of the vehicle while in motion shall develop tendency to tilting upward and in speed driving the front wheel shall be raised upwards momentarily not touching the ground. All the Super Deluxe/Luxury buses are simultaneously use as Courier service transport and carries load of merchandise besides the personal luggage of the passengers.
In my personal assessment, the ill fated bus was fully loaded or overloaded. According to the paper (NP) twelve people died and over three dozen seriously injured means 42 passengers including driver and attendant. Morung Express reports 12 deaths and 17 injured but no mention of non injury if any. Besides the passengers the bus must have been also fully loaded in its overhang body luggage boot. It is reported that the bus skidded off the road which is highly doubtful as the road is seen parched dry, but if skidded, then it must be by inertia of motion due to very high speed of the vehicle beyond the means of technical limit of braking efficiency. The tyre screeching mark on the asphalt road surface shall speak of braking by the driver whether it skidded of the road or not. It may be also likely that the driver dozed off as it was early morning at 3:30 AM when the accident took place and by the time he realized his reaction time was too late. In such cases the tyre screeching mark will be visible at the road shoulder or not at all as the vehicle would have already veered off the road.
In the case where only the vehicle rear wheel screeching mark is clearly visible but no screeching mark of the front wheel, it will be a befitting case of overloading on the excess rear overhang body combine with over speeding leading to aerodynamic problem causing displacement of equilibrium of body load balance where the front part of the vehicle would have slightly lifted up in the air displacing the front wheels from contact on the road surface causing failure of steering wheel control to negotiate road curvature. This theory will be confirmed if there is road turning immediately behind the accident spot. The unscrupulous transport operator would try to exceed the body construction limit but the inspecting authority and the registering authority should be prudent enough to control the rear overhang limitation. In the present accident case if the rear overhang of the accident vehicle is found exceeding the 60% permissible limit of the wheel base as apparent from the photograph, the Inspecting authority, Registering Authority, the body fabrication workshop and the owner shall be jointly and severally liable of criminal offence.
If we go through the research and analysis of the accident report, it is found that 90 % of the motor vehicles accident occurs due to human failure which includes negligence, error of judgment, rash driving, drunken driving, overload, poor maintenance docking. Study shows less than10 % of the road accidents are caused by mechanical failures. Every day 400 people are killed in road accidents in India. There were 5 lakhs reported road accidents in India during 2015 resulting in 1,46,133 deaths. The accidents and the death is going upward every year and becoming uncontrollable. Every road user as stake holder should develop road safety culture to bring down the road accident.
T. Meren Paul
Former Transport Commissioner.