Potholes, speed breakers and road works kill 16,000 in India

Poor road maintenance due to corruption blamed for potholes, some metres deep

Vehicles on the western express highway in Mumbai. Transport experts in India said that until road building agencies were held accountable for maintenance and prosecuted for negligence, the menace of potholes would continue. Photograph:  Divyakant Solanki/EPA

Vehicles on the western express highway in Mumbai. Transport experts in India said that until road building agencies were held accountable for maintenance and prosecuted for negligence, the menace of potholes would continue. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/EPA

 

Nearly 16,000 people have died over the past year across India in accidents due to potholes, badly designed speed breakers and on roads under repair and construction.

In its first ever road accident report, for 2014, the federal government revealed that some 6,672 people had died last year in incidents caused by potholes.

Another 4,726 had died similarly trying to negotiate massive, unmarked and uneven speed-breakers, often in the dark, while 4,100 were killed in crashes on roads either being repaired or constructed or both.

Traffic experts, however, said actual fatality figures were far higher, as traffic police across India were careless in recording the precise cause of accidents.

Northern Uttar Pradesh state, adjoining the capital New Delhi, topped this accident list with 4,455 fatalities, followed by 915 in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh province and 867 in nearby Bihar state.

Officials admitted that poor road maintenance, due to widespread corruption by contractors, in almost all of India’s 29 states and several federally administered territories were responsible for the potholes, many of them several metres deep.

These became virtual death traps during the monsoon rains when most roads, with little or no drainage, were flooded for extended periods.

And when the water dried up, their surfaces were pitted with doubly hazardous crevices.

Endless nightmare

Even rich cities such as Mumbai and Bangalore, the country’s technological capital, and their equally affluent municipalities, were not immune from these issues.

Transport experts said that until road building agencies were held accountable for maintenance and prosecuted for negligence, the menace of potholes would continue.

India’s former director general of roads V L Patankar said most speed breakers in the country were “hugely dangerous”. “None follow principles of design, curvature or location,” Mr Patankar said.

Most speed breakers are erected locally by residents and are particularly hazardous for motorcyclists and other two-wheeled vehicles, Mr Parankar added.

India also has the world’s highest road accident rate, with Delhi registering an average daily death toll of six people – mostly pedestrians and cyclists run over by speeding vehicles at night.

Breathalyser tests are rare in the city and drunk driving is common. In addition, cows squatting in the centre of dimly-lit roads at night cause traffic to swerve at the last minute, often with disastrous effect.