Distractions are welcome, said Sudershan Popli over a self-made dipped milk-less but hot tea and some Britannia cookies on a Saturday afternoon in a Delhi suburban location.
Did I hear him correctly?
Why this confusion?
Popli is a renowned Road Safety expert. Not the type that looks at road safety as the route to popularity and building up its exclusive constituency.
Popli is an highway engineer by qualification and profession. For 35 years, he served in #RITES (Rail India Technical and Economic Service, a Government of India undertaking), conceptualizing, designing, making, monitoring, auditing, and what not of road making in India and overseas.
Somewhere around 1999, he evinced interest to know more about road safety. Not that such focus did not exist earlier. In 2000, he became passionate.
Therefore, when I hear him declare that distractions are welcome, I was flummoxed.
Rubbing my eyelids, I ask him: “Did you say this…?”
He understood my incredulity. He nods.
Sir, what’s the rationale for such an observation?
Imagine, driving on an Expressway for long stretches where there is nothing but road, road, road on both sides. One gets into a zone, where drivers feel sleepiness and falling asleep while driving. It is not good. There is safety risk, he elaborates.
So, Distractions shall be designed such a way to make the driver attentive and not feel sleepy.
Is Popli referring to “white line fever” or “highway hypnosis?” Perhaps.
Popli is of the opinion that no stretch of road/highways beyond 3km should be horizontal or vertical. Flat like a straight line. From the engineering point of view, that is the easiest job to execute. There need to be some curvature. There need to be some dip and rise. Such modifications will automatically reduce drivers’ visibility to a limited area and therefore, he/she would be more focused and careful in driving.
I am reminded of what Matthew Crawford wrote in his 2015 classic, The World Beyond Your Head: How To Flourish In An Age of Distraction.
He quotes John Muir, author of How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive in 1969:
“If we all drive constantly drive as if we are strapped to the front of the car like Aztec sacrifices so we would be the first thing hit, there would be lot less accidents.”
Here’s another gem:
“We assume safety is the result of forgiving roads. We figure straightening our streets and widening shoulders makes our roads safe,” opines Eric Dumbaugh, a civil and environmental engineer at an American university.
Crawford offers his piece of advice, saying, “When roads look dangerous, people slow down and become more heedful.”
So, there are multiple schools of thought on road safety. Veteran Popli has his quota of notions. He mentioned that landscape along the highway is to be such a way designed and developed to look pleasing to drivers.
The different color flowering/shrubs enhance the overall aesthetics of expressway. The placement of road signs and pavement markings not only provide guidance to the drivers but the information which drivers looking for like how much he has to drive to reach the destination ahead.