When a Lucknow-Delhi AC bus hit the divider around 4.15 am and plunged into a canal, killing 29 passengers, the driver, Kripa Shankar Chaudhary (35), who also succumbed to injuries, was immediately held responsible.
Media reports suggested that the driver must have been sleepy. The driver, it was reported, had fallen asleep. Others doubted if he had obtained his driving licence the easy way by paying money. There was speculation that the bus was speeding and officials readily admitted that the 30 CCTV cameras on the entire stretch of 165 kms were too few to curb speeding on the six-lane highway thrown open to the public since 2012.
The bus, allegedly being driven at a high speed, swivelled onto the divider, rammed a crash barrier, flipped mid-air and plunged into a canal approximately 60 metres below. One side of the bus was submerged in water approximately 15 feet deep, as the vehicle landed sideways.
The six-lane highway to hell is ironically a showpiece. It is extendable to 8 lanes. Mobile radars are there to monitor compliance with minimum and maximum speed limits. CCTV cameras are installed every five kilometres. And with one highway patrol stationed every 25 kms, it should have been one of the safest highways in the country.
That there is something wrong is also borne out by the fact that it took two hours for relief and rescue operations to start. By the time the cranes reached the site and gas cutters were used to cut open the body of the bus and extricate the seriously injured passengers, 29 of them had died.
Reports claim that a 70-member team from the State Disaster Response Force including divers reached the spot two hours after the first information. But considering the location of SN Medical College, Agra, barely 11 Kms from the accident site, one wonders if the time taken could have been shorter.
The driver, Chaudhary, had been with UP State Transport Corporation since 2005 and apparently had a clean record. The bus is also said to have been new, barely two-three years old. So, what could have caused the accident?
Road Safety experts say that a proper inquiry into road accidents are almost never carried out. In any case the result of such inquiries rarely are made public. The state government gets away by announcing compensation, in this case Rs five lakh to the kin of the deceased, an amount which seldom reach them or reaches them after a long wait.
Here is a check list, they suggest, which may provide clues to the abnormally high number of accidents on the Expressway.
Maintenance: It is important to learn how many kilometres the vehicle had covered before the accident; when it was last serviced; when its tyres had been replaced and brakes tested. The vehicle may have been relatively new but the question is whether it was being maintained properly.
Driver: It is important for drivers to undergo medical checks regularly. Deformities like colour blindness, partial night blindness, eyesight and retina checks might help detect problems early. Had the driver been at the wheels for inordinately long hours? Was he doing a double shift? Was he driving on a familiar stretch or was he new?
Obstacles: At high speed, even when a cow or a stray animal suddenly saunters to the highway, the driver can lose control in trying to avoid hitting it and putting the brakes. The vehicle could also skid if there had been an oil spill earlier in the day and the driver, unaware, drives on it.
Headlights on high beam: Street lighting and vehicles driving from the opposite direction with their headlights on high beam could also cause accidents by dazzling the driver.
The inquiry should also take into account the load that the bus was carrying, if it had First-Aid Kits and whether it had allowed passengers to keep heavy luggage inside.
As many as 55 people in Uttar Pradesh are said to die daily in road accidents. The daily toll in the country is said to be 400. More than 150,000 people are killed on India’s roads every year, claimed a report by AFP.