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Speeding, lack of discipline to blame for highway accidents

By K.T. Sangameswaran

CHENNAI, JUNE 30. The ghastly accident involving a bus and a lorry at Pennalur on the Chennai-Bangalore National Highway, which claimed eight lives, has brought to the fore several aspects of road safety, particularly transportation of passengers and hazardous chemicals.

Last week's tragedy is almost similar to the March 1995 accident at Senthamangalam near Sunkuvarchatram on the same highway. Nearly 50 persons had perished in the fire after an accident involving three vehicles — a deluxe bus, a benzene-laden tanker and a tractor-trailer carrying villagers.

Though the cause of the Pennalur accident is still under investigation, police say that many of the tragedies on highways could be prevented if drivers are disciplined. There had been no major accident at the spot in the last few years, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Chengalpattu range) S.G. Rajendran, told The Hindu .

He said preliminary investigations revealed that the lorry, en route to Ranipet from Chennai, was carrying an assortment of articles such as paint thinner, groceries, utensils, polythene bags, steel furniture, salt, plastic buckets and bitumen. Going by a witness's statement, the police suspect that the highly inflammable thinner was stored in the lorry's cabin, which caught fire first. In the impact of the collision, the material would have spilled on to the other vehicle causing the fire to spread. The bitumen, which was part of the load, would have sustained the fire.

In the 1995 accident also, the benzene splashed on the bus and the tractor-trailer setting ablaze the vehicles and killing the occupants.

A problem with super deluxe coaches is the occupants' difficulty in getting out of them in times of emergency. In the recent accident, the bus door got jammed in the collision as a result of which the passengers were virtually trapped. What came as a blessing in disguise to the passengers was another private bus, which accidentally hit their vehicle from behind, thus smashing the rear windscreen. This, to a certain extent, facilitated their escape.

Fortunately, on seeing the flames, the driver of the second bus quickly reversed to a safe distance. Meanwhile, students of a nearby college and some villagers rushed to the scene and helped the passengers, preventing more casualties.

Bus passengers of the 1995 accident faced the same difficulty — they could not get out of the vehicle quickly after it caught fire.

The police say speeding and carelessness are two major reasons behind accidents on highways. Besides, drivers should be educated on the need to adopt safety measures while carrying hazardous inflammable material.

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