Use dipper at night. Use speed governor by day.

BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: Truckers in Karnataka went on strike on the midnight of February 22 in protest against the government’s decision to make the installation of “speed governors” compulsory. They contended that making the device mandatory would raise operating costs and slow down the movement of goods, particularly essential commodities and perishables. And they dropped dark hints of vested corporate interests behind the move.

The stir was withdrawn in a couple of days after the Supreme Court granted a stay but, while it is to easy to see the truckers’ point, it is also important to understand the socio-economic rationale behind the move which the truckers are eager to ignore.

Truckers all over India share some common traits. Barring exceptions, most trucks are in poor shape, noise and air polluting, with dubious registration. Barring exceptions, the drivers are undisciplined, overbearing and aggressive. They are impatient, take sadistic pleasure in playing hide and seek with cars and smaller vehicles, and care not a whit for human life and limb. It may be fun for truck drivers but for drivers of the cars it becomes a frightening experience.

But that’s not all.

Some years ago a Parliamentary Committee found that 80% of trucks carry much more than the designated load. The overloading is not marginal and many times it is as much as twice its capacity and sometimes even more. The reason for this is that truck owners want to recoup their investment in a short span of time and they have no qualms about discarding the trucks once they have made a sizeable profit. Any further use is only a bonus.

The outturn would be naturally more if the delivery of goods is made quicker. This is possible only if the trucks can move with great speed. This is the main reason why the Federation of Trucking Industry went on strike against speed governors being made mandatory. But the reasons offered for public consumption are quite to the contrary.

Indeed, while the truck operators and owners languidly talk of the delay and vested interests, not one of them seems to have any concern for human life that might be saved by the speed governors. Sure, the speed governor rule at the moment is operable only in Karnataka on Karnataka-registered vehicles, but surely a start must be made somewhere?

The fatalities on our highways has been increasing year by year and according to the latest statistics, more than one lakh people died on our roads last year, forming a whopping 8% of the world fatalities of 12 lakh. In 2005, two-thirds of the dead were in the age group of 15-44. This is most distressing for, besides the trauma felt by the near and dear ones of the victims, it is a great economic national loss.

Though no definitive attempt has been made one rough assessment puts it at as high as 3.9% of the GDP! But more damning aspect is that trucks emerge as major killers.

Some time ago Ministry of Transport under World Bank funding did a research of Road User Cost Study. According to it there is a particular speed for each type of vehicle when the fuel consumption is minimum. At higher or lower speeds the fuel consumption gradually increases and roughly at twice the optimum speed the fuel consumption will be twice as high. This correlation exists for lower speeds also.

Thus, the fuel drain without speed governors can be imagined. When the country is reeling under the impact of rising price of crude oil and considering that a large percentage of crude is imported, saving fuel becomes crucial for country’s economy. But the truckers do not seem to be in the mood.

Overloading has another more serious damaging effect. Again, a research project undertaken by the transport ministry reveals that the deterioration of a road depends upon the fourth power of the load.

Thus, for example, if a truck carries twice its axle load the damaging effect on our roads is 16 times more (2x2x2x2). If our roads and highways are in poor condition, it is also attributable to overloading because at the rate they deteriorate the transport authorities cannot keep pace with repair and maintenance. For the vehicle owners, poor roads result in an increase in vehicle operating costs which they transfer to customers.

Therefore , whether by way of death on our highways, increase in fuel costs, increase in commodity prices or poor state of roads the customers will be at the receiving end. These are weighty issues that need to be resolved. Just yielding to the truckers’ lobby will not do and the whole gamut of issues are involved.

(Bapu Satyanarayana is a retired chief engineer in the Union ministry of surface transport)