We enter the new world of super highways on November 27th with heavy anticipation, but would caution over enthusiasm and would recommend that one reads the report by the ‘Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport’ to realize that unless there are severe controls on who is allowed to enter, we are laying ourselves open to a ‘disaster waiting to happen’. I will not lay out their recommendations here but just to say that they suggest a slow introduction into the expressway, first for cars after a 10 minute training and certificate highlighting the main areas to be careful of, and then gradually introduce other grades of vehicles.
I must have clocked over 1M km on super highways all around the world as a driver, and have enjoyed speeds in excess of 200kmph in fast cars, and know how exciting speed is when driving a car built for speed. There are bound to many like me who are waiting to take their babies (cars are some of the prized possessions of our spoiled young men in SL today) and knowing the speed fiends they are, will likely end up in the wrong end of the stretcher. It takes a lot of practice to drive at speed, as there are so many things to consider. My commute to work in California was a drive of over 200km each way, and it was a pleasure to drive over amazing scenery and lands. Over vineyards, and tomato fields, over pistachio groves and apple orchards, over cattle ranches and citrus plantations, over strawberry fields and sea views into the gardens of Montecito and into the office in Santa Barbara.
Mercifully I was not involved in any accidents and collected a share of speeding fines. Now I do not even posses a vehicle to make the drive on to Galle. No matter I do not regret it as I know less than 10% of motorists will be able to handle the road and I must warn that this is not like any of the expressways I have driven on.
Firstly the width of the lane has been compromised, and reduced by 20cm. This makes it very tricky in driving at speed, especially when passing heavy vehicles, when the wind effect of passing especially on a windy day can unknowingly shift the vehicle too close causing a nightmare accident. Then it is the break down or emergency stopping lane which is also much narrower than international standards. This makes it extremely hazardous in passing a stalled vehicle, as the vehicle on the right is likely to veer to the right endangering the overtaking vehicle on the right lane, which has nowhere to go, except brake. In braking this has to be done very gently and carefully as however good the braking vehicle is the vehicle behind may not be able to brake adequately. It will even pay to test all brakes before putting a vehicle on to the expressway. Even one with good reflexes must be careful, which goes to the next problem which is the distance between vehicles.
At 100kmph a vehicle must be at least 10 car lengths behind, and I doubt our drivers have any clue of this basic safety requirement. This then flows to the inadequate knowledge of highway driving of the police, who in their usual tunnel vision are likely to penalize only the 100kmph safe drivers in well maintained vehicles and ignore the tailgaters, misaligned tires and unsteady vehicles. A sports car at 100kmph is perfectly safe in comparison to a sport utility vehicle even a new Pajero, which is highly prone to rollover at speeds. The sports cars are usually fitted with tires that are built for speed, whilst others are not and tire bursts at speed, especially due to incorrect inflation pressure can cause a serious lack of control, resulting in a horrific crash that can easily affect the safe driver.
The problems are made even worse by the innate inability of our drivers to keep to the lanes. This will become a huge problem as speedsters will approach a hogger who is flashed and will not understand why and then play a game of road rage that can cause a massive pileup. In addition, the new vistas created by a new road will make drivers wander with their eyes, something you just cannot do in speed in narrow lanes when there is traffic. I dare not even comment on the mobile phone and sms menace that discipline requires to be ignored at all costs. So what about the chauffeurs who would begging their bosses to take the new Mercs on the road to hell!! The owners must openly tell them that all fines, and loss of licenses are their responsibility and any damage to the vehicle is theirs too. I somehow doubt even that could sway ‘our prone to drink’ chauffeurs away from their bad habits.
Traffic police need at least 6months training in being able to control speeds and judge who the danger to the road is so that the truly dangerous drivers can be prosecuted. This very important area has been neglected so far and an appeal for immediate training is not unwarranted. There are no traffic police viewpoints similar to those in other countries where from a vantage they can immediately spot an errant driver and be able to stealthily swoop in and catch the culprit. I do not have space to go into all the aspects of law enforcement but just to say that common sense, something hugely lacking in the police force is the only way to ensure a reasonable experience for all.
I believe that fewer vehicles should be initially allowed on this road for a gradual transition into the new driving style. So a 6month period of 300% of the proposed toll charge would be a way to control the numbers using market forces. A leaflet upon entry for the first month highlighting these issues must be given to the driver and specifically asked to study this as an added requirement. After all we are doing our best to reduce the cost to the State of accidents, and it is better to be “penny wise than be pound foolish”. Happy Motoring!! Please share your thoughts.