Highway Speed Puzzles

In the absence of specific norms on traffic safety in the state of West Bengal, the campaign of ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ is proving to be taxing on innocent motorists. Rising grievances among the motorists on highways prompted Team WHEELS to conduct a survey, the report of which was astounding. Astounding Status The ‘Safe Drive’ campaign in West Bengal has prompted the authorities to harp mainly on one factor – reduction of speed. With the initiation of the campaign, it has begun penalizing the road users on ‘excessive’ speed. But for imposing a traffic fine for exceeding a speed limit, there needs to first exist a 'maximum speed limit' on a stretch. And to make it effective, the speed regulations should be made known to the road users, along with the display of the 'speed limit' appropriately. Team WHEELS was taken aback when it tried to find out the maximum speed limits on National Highways around Kolkata. No notification or publication of the maximum speed limits could ever be traced at the first go. It searched all probable nooks and corners but failed. It checked with the Dankuni Police Station which restrains speed on Durgapur Expressway and NH-19 (NH-2), the website of West Bengal Traffic Police, the website of National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI), the website of the Department of Road Transport under the Government of West Bengal, Google and many senior police officials of the state. Team WHEELS also undertook a road survey on NH-19 (NH-2) this March, but failed. The Team had one question in mind. How could the motorists be penalized without being informed or made aware of the basic speeding rules? Case Study On February 26, Sourish Chatterjee, an IT professional, on his way back from Durgapur with his wife and one-year-old child, driving a Tata Tiago, was intercepted on NH-19 at Dankuni, just beyond the toll plaza. He was stopped by a highway patrol and a few civic policemen. They identified themselves as authorities of Dankuni Police Station under Chandannagar Traffic Police. They asked Sourish to produce his driving licence. On inquiry, Sourish was told that he was being penalized for over-speeding on the Durgapur Expressway (NH-19). A fine of Rs 400 was asked to be paid along with the seizure of his driving licence. He was informed that the fine could be paid on the spot or within the next day at Dankuni PS, failing which he would have to go to Chinsurah Police Lines to get the licence released. Sourish alleged that there was no speed limit signboard within 10 km on the Kolkata-bound traffic lane of the highway. The police personnel refuted by saying they had a speed gun which recorded the speed as 92 kilometres per hour (kmph). When inquired, they were unable to specify the maximum speed limit on the stretch in violation of which he was being penalised for. To avoid any further harassment, Sourish handed over the fine on the spot. In another incident, Debasish Dutta (name changed) was penalized thrice in one day. On his way to Tarapith, he was first prosecuted for over-speeding on NH-19 at Singur where his driving licence was seized. He was thereafter intercepted at Bardhaman and again at Ilambazar, with his seizure lists confiscated multiple times. He hired a professional agent to get his licence released. And what transpired with him was absolutely shocking! The licence had to be traced back from Ilambazar followed by Bardhaman and Singur. And if his licence gets suspended or punched, it would mean the end of his driving life, at least for six months. Debasish alleged, the exact speed limits for the penalties were however, not specified, similar to the earlier case. Sourish complains, "Hefty toll taxes are collected from the road users for providing better and faster highways. With the curbed speed on National Highways and Expressways, how is a faster passage possible?" Survey report Team WHEELS went on a survey on 19 March 2018. The Team first scanned 10 km on the Bardhaman-bound traffic lane of National Highway 19 (NH-2) from the Dankuni Toll Tax Plaza. No speed limit signboard was visible to the Team except one ‘40 kmph’ board denoting a local congestion and a few ‘Go Slow’ and ‘Safe Drive Save Life’ signages. The Team took a U-turn on the downward lane to Kolkata and observed the 10 km stretch thoroughly upto Dankuni Toll Plaza but could not trace a single speed-limiting signboard. (Sourish was prosecuted on this stretch for over-speeding.) During the survey, Team WHEELS recorded stray cattle approaching from the opposite direction, heading the traffic. Two-wheelers were also found going across the highway lanes, sneaking through the medians, forcing the speeding vehicles to manoeuvre through the unpredictable gaps, putting all lives in danger. The Team thereafter visited the Dankuni Police Station located adjacent to NH-19 to know the exact rule on the highway. The Officer-on-Duty at the station admitted prosecuting the motorists exceeding 60 kmph. He also conveyed that there were 68 cases registered in February 2018 for over-speeding. Motor Vehicles Act The speed limit regulation in India has been specified in the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988. It specifies that vehicles in India are allowed to ply under a ceiling of speed limit known as the ‘maximum speed limit’. Maximum speed limits for different classes of vehicles are fixed at the national level by the Central Government. As per Section 112(1) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, the speed limit fixed by the Central Government that came into force from 1 July 1989 is as follows: Speed limit as per Motor Vehicles Act of 1988
Class of Vehicle Maximum Speed per Hour in Kilometres
1 Light Motor Vehicle (LMV) other than a transport vehicle No limit
2 Light Motor Vehicle (LMV) and a transport vehicle 65
3 Motor Cycle 50
4 Medium or Heavy Passenger Motor Vehicle 65
5 Medium or Heavy Goods Vehicle 65
The MV Act thus specifies no default speed limit for Light Motor Vehicles (LMV) in India. However, the Act also specifies that the State Government or any authority authorised on this behalf by the State Government may, if necessary, restrict the speed of motor vehicles in the interest of public safety or convenience or road condition as per Section 116(2) of the MV Act. The same section specifies that the speed limits have to be displayed through appropriate traffic signs erected at suitable places. Highway speed norms around in west bengal After a lot of running around, the following was unearthed by Team WHEELS. As per a meeting held between the National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI) and West Bengal Police in 2014, a circular was issued by NHAI vide memo no. NHAI/RO-KOL/001/2014/4(A)/Traffic/826 dated 4.5.2014 wherein it has been stated that the speed on the National or State Highways with 4 or 6 lanes is required to be limited to 80 kmph. The speed regulation of 80 kmph applies on specific stretches of National Highways around Kolkata in West Bangal (see table).  
New Highway Nos. Old Highway Nos. Stretch with Maximum Speed Limit of 80 kmph
NH-19 NH-2 Barakar to Dankuni
NH-16 NH-6 Dankuni to Kharagpur
NH-116 NH-41 Kolaghat to Haldia
NH-14 NH-60 Kharagpur to Laxmannath
NH-27 NH-31 Dalkhola to Ghoshpukur
NH-17 NH-31C Sevoke to Falakata
NH-19 NH-2 Belghoria Expressway
Thus, presently, the maximum speed limit on highways in West Bengal is 80 kmph. Additionally, the maximum speed was decided to be restrained to 40 kmph for narrow culverts, market places and bridges as per circular no. 231/CE/NH dated 7.5.2014 of NHAI. It also states that in congested areas, the speed may further be reduced to 20 kmph. Augmentation of West Bengal Traffic Police To improve the traffic scenario in West Bengal, the West Bengal Traffic Police Branch was reinforced on 8 July 2016 having its headquarters in Araksha Bhavan, CJ Block, Salt Lake, Kolkata. The West Bengal Traffic Police is responsible for the controlling and management of traffic in the state of West Bengal excluding the city of Kolkata. Its main functions include patrolling of National and State Highways; enforcement of traffic laws and rules; traffic management planning and advising the District Traffic Branches and Police Commissionerates on the training and development of manpower for traffic management duties. The Superintendents of Police in the Districts have also been designated as Superintendent of Police, Traffic, for their respective districts and work under the control of the State Traffic Branch in respect of traffic matters. In an interview with Team WHEELS, Vivek Sahay, Addl DG & IG of Police, Traffic, West Bengal, said that they are focusing on the 'Four E's of Traffic': Education, Engineering, Enforcement and Emergency. Additionally, Traffic Branches have been formed at the newly-created Bidhannagar Police Commissionerate, Barrackpore Police Commissionerate, Howrah Police Commissionerate, Asansol-Durgapur Police Commissionerate and Siliguri Police Commissionerate. These Commisionerates also work under the supervision and control of the West Bengal Traffic Branch Headquarters. The Traffic Branches in the Districts as well as the Commissionerates deploy traffic policemen from their own resources to manage the traffic under their respective jurisdiction. A commendable feat achieved by the West Bengal Traffic Police is the lowering of accident rates. The Supreme Court issued a circular to reduce the rate of road accidents by 10% each year and West Bengal Traffic Police has managed to bring it down by 15%-16% – as stated by Vivek Sahay. Lack of basic highway rules Team WHEELS feels clamping down on the single factor of ‘speed’ should not be the only focus of the administration. There are many vital traffic norms that are blatantly violated in our state, giving rise to countless accidents and need to be dealt with on priority.
  • The most common violation on the highways is the movement of heavy vehicles through the right-most lane, forcing the smaller vehicles to overtake on their left. This is a basic traffic rule which is violated throughout India, resulting in a number of ac Movement of heavy vehicles in the extreme left lane should be made mandatory to save lives. It is a part of ‘Safe Drive’ as well!
  • Apart from ‘lane violation’, vehicles parked on the main carriageway and absence of vehicle lights are apparently critical reasons for crashes and fatalities on highways which are mostly avoidable.
  • The Supreme Court had in November 2017 observed: "It is also necessary to set up special patrol forces along the National Highways and State Highways for which necessary steps must be taken by the State Governments and Union Territories."
Broader aspects are also ignored under the present scenario. As per Table 14.4 of Code of Practice for Road Signs published by the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) 2012, for Speed Limit signboards, the maximum distance between the consecutive signs should be as follow:
Maximum Distance between consecutive signboards
40 km per hour 300 metres
50 km per hour 400 metres
60 km per hour 500 metres
70 km per hour 600 metres
80 km per hour 700 metres
  • In absence of the repeater signs as laid down by the IRC, the road users are exposed to utter confusion. With every speed-limiting signage on the highway, there needs to be a repeater sign or a ‘Restriction Ends’ signboard to identify the risky zone and end the confusion of the motorists of the exact stretch of the speed restriction. In the absence of marking of the danger zones, the significance of the speed regulation diminishes.
  • Basudev Ghosh, a veteran motorist feels, "Engaging speed barriers is the worst way to enforce speed restriction on highways. It increases the danger of accidents on highways. The speed barriers positioned in the middle of highways actually jeopardize safe passage and pose as a high risk for vehicles."
  • Debopam Banerjee, a highway frequenter, also comments, "The restriction of pedestrians, local motorists, cyclists and cattle on highways needs to be enforced. Simply reducing the speed as the easiest formula will not fetch significant results."
Save Motorists, Save Lives In a progressive nation like India where modern cars are launched almost every week, restraining speed would act as a massive deterrent. Slower speed would slow down the economy as well. The longer the time taken in commuting, the greater will be the loss in productivity and revenue generation. Now some good news on the speed front! The highways ministry under the Central Government, in February 2018, has approved increasing the speed limit of light motor vehicles plying on National Highways from the existing 80 kmph to 100 kmph. On Expressways, the maximum permissible limit for LMVs will be 120 kmph. The notification is supposed to be published soon. Anyway, the State Government will have the right to decrease it once again. It has been widely observed that motorists are the softest target when it comes to enforcing traffic regulations. Let them be spared before the specific rules are communicated and enforced with sincerity. West Bengal Traffic Police HQ Control Room (033) 23598289

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