Doctors are concerned about the number of people dying in accidents due to speed breakers

On a dark night with little or no street lighting in some localities in and around Chennai, is it safe to ride a two-wheeler? What are the chances that you might hit a speed breaker that is not visible, and be thrown off the vehicle?

Doctors say the risk of such an occurrence is high. They were speaking at a conference of organ transplant coordinators organised by the Multi Organ Harvesting Aid Network (MOHAN) Foundation. On many nights, two or three people in the metropolitan area are thrown off their vehicles in exactly such circumstances, and suffer brain stem death (defined in law as the stage at which all functions of the brain stem have permanently and irreversibly ceased). They then become cadavers, whose organs can be donated.

The risk of such an outcome is naturally higher when there is no protective headgear. Think about that the next time you ride your bike without a helmet.

At the MOHAN conference, medical professionals posed a question to the transplant coordinators – what would you do about such dangerous speed breakers? The participants placed great faith in the ability of government agencies to set things right. They suggested that the presence of speed breakers must be highlighted using reflective devices. Data must be gathered on all non-standard speed arresters and forwarded to the authorities, they said.

The point is that medical professionals are alarmed at the large number of people encountering organ failure each year. Selfless, altruistic donation of organs by families of accident victims is giving these people a new lease of life. Equally, doctors are concerned about the number of people dying on the roads in avoidable traffic accidents. Their response is two-pronged. To take preventive action that will reduce both the need for organ donation and the death rate due to accidents – one, by cutting down the rate of kidney, liver and heart failures through public health interventions, and the other, by working on the factors causing accident-related ‘brain deaths’.

The evidence on government agencies taking up safety measures to re-engineer roads is woefully weak. In July this year, after the death of a Minister’s son was attributed to a speed breaker-linked two-wheeler accident, the Chennai Corporation unveiled a new design for such structures. What it did was show on its campus, a ‘model’ traffic hump (producing a softer impact), to replace the arbitrary speed breakers that are found in large numbers and which cause sudden, stronger impacts.

Officially, there are 400 speed breakers in Chennai that need to be re-engineered for safety. Few meet the Corporation’s new criteria, but there appears to be no timetable for completion for the task.

Displaying the brightly-painted ‘new model’ speed hump, the Corporation said it had been built according to the standards of the Indian Roads Congress. Which begs the question, why were the standards not followed all along? Is it because no one at the Corporation is really accountable? Also, among the vehicles affected by non-standard speed breakers are ambulances.

No one in the government is genuinely addressing these issues. Again, many people, especially those riding pillion, are thrown off two-wheelers not by speed breakers, but by potholes. They too suffer traumatic brain injuries, often rendering them brain dead.

The lesson from this evidence is clear – we can cut our salt, sugar and alcohol intake, stop smoking, be physically active, and lead healthy lives to protect our hearts, kidneys and livers. But we would have to shake our government agencies vigorously to get them to do their job – fix our roads, speed breakers and street lighting – to keep us safe.

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