By TD Fuego II
When I first read about Shiva Pillay-Chedumbrum’s untimely death last Monday (18-Jul-11) at the wheel of his Suzuki, I imagined that either he or the driver of the BMW had skidded and crossed the central reservation. Because it was reported that they had been on a head on collision on the M1 somewhere near Mt Ory.
“No,” said my friend Keshraj, putting me right, “the BMW was in the 3rd lane going north and the Suzuki was in what is normally the 2nd lane going south.” For those who may not know, during normal working days every morning, the 2nd lane on the south-bound carriage between Mt Ory and Bell Village is converted into a 3rd lane to be used by north-bound traffic.
Thankfully I have not had to drive into Port Louis of a morning since my retirement 15 years ago. But, even though the facility existed at the time, I never felt it safe to use the 3rd lane, which I left to the intrepid aces of the wheel. At the time, I remember the SMF used to put the bright orange/white cones sufficiently close to each other for everyone to be aware of the lane demarcation.
However, when I drove to an appointment to the Cardiac centre in Pamplemousses one morning in 2005, the space between cones had increased and the cones seemed small and jaded affairs. I had this dreadful feeling that a split moment of inattention would be sufficient to make a south-bound driver forget that the 2nd lane was not his to use. Is that what happened to Shiva on that fateful Monday morning? Sadly, we will never know. But, I am afraid this was an accident waiting to happen.
PM Ramgoolam is mostly right when he says that we Mauritians do not know how to drive, and drive recklessly on the roads. I say mostly because, for every case of bad behaviour we see on the highways, there as many drivers who actually do know and follow their highway code and drive safely. There is even a certain number, admittedly a very small one, who are not averse to showing some basic courtesy to a fellow driver and other road users.
So, apart from the bad behaviour of some drivers, what else can be responsible for the many accidents on our roads? I am sorry, but my finger is pointing firmly in the direction of the authorities, in particular the MPI. In spite of the vast amounts of money being poured (the PM says USD 10bn) into road building, our highways are woefully lacking in basic safety features. In other cases, the pitiful condition of the road is simply out of sync with the requirements of a fleet of modern, fast cars — as anyone who has recently driven on the Port Louis-bound motorway from the north will testify.
As you may have gathered, I have always found the 3rd lane an aberration. But, if we must have it, we should leave no doubt whatsoever in the south-bound driver’s mind that the 2nd lane is out of bounds for him. The cones must be placed reasonably close to each other, and should be of sufficient height and the orange/white colours bright and fluorescent. Additionally, instead of the distracting hoardings that clutter the roadside, we could place well-designed reminders at regular intervals, especially for the benefit of new/foreign users — something that has never been done to my knowledge.
We simply cannot afford to leave any stone unturned — duplicating our acts if need be — in order to avert the oh-so-avoidable accidents that main and kill all too frequently on our roads!
* Published in print edition on 29 July 2011