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Monday, October 21, 2013

dangerous cargo protruding out of lorries; posing danger to road users.... PIL before Supreme Court


“pro·trude’ : ~ (V)  To push or thrust outward; to jut out; project.
Dangerous goods carriage…….

There are trucks and there are killer trucks ~ without them goods cannot be moved from place to place and the lorries are indispensable. Often you find them and fear them – for they are driven rashly and sometimes by people not holding proper licence (!)

The catastrophic explosion of a freight train this month in Quebec has raised fresh questions  about the safety of rail lines and the transportation of oil and other hazardous cargo. As many as 50 people are dead or still missing five days after a runaway train loaded with crude oil jumped the tracks and exploded in a series of enormous fireballs, devastating the center of the village of Lac Megantic, Quebec, just north of the Maine border.

There are some dangerous and hazardous cargo. Dangerous goods are solids, liquids, or gases that can harm people, other living organisms, property, or the environment. They are often subject to chemical regulations. In the United States and sometimes in Canada dangerous goods are more commonly known as hazardous materials, (abbreviated as HAZMAT or HazMat). People who are to handle hazardous cargo are specially trained.  Dangerous goods include materials that are radioactive, flammable, explosive, corrosive, oxidizing, asphyxiating, biohazardous, toxic, pathogenic, or allergenic. Also included are physical conditions such as compressed gases and liquids or hot materials, including all goods containing such materials or chemicals, or may have other characteristics that render them hazardous in specific circumstances.

When it comes to transportation by sea, there is International guideline for safe transportation of dangerous goods or hazardous material known as ‘IMDG Code’ or International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code.  The implementation of the Code is mandatory in conjunction with the obligations of the members of united nation government under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78).

That is all about ‘dangerous good’ but on road the more you fear about is the way goods are transported i.e., ‘goods danger’ – those cargo jutting out and protruding out from the carrying vehicle. We see so many of them – some care, some fear, some intentionally neglect them… the other day, saw a truck transporting industrial cylinders passing over a mound created due to repairs to road – as the lorry passed by, one of the cylinders not so properly placed – just got thrown a few feet in air and very fortunately got back to its place inside the truck itself… what would have happened if it were to come out of the truck and fall on other vehicles following closely or on two-wheeler riders or pedestrians – one shudders to think. One often see waste material and iron rods carelessly carried projecting outside the lorry with a small piece of red cloth being the only indicator of danger.

iron rod truck - courtesy telegraph newspaper
Recently in news is the petition in Supreme Court and Apex Court issuing notice to Centre seeking framing of guidelines for vehicles carrying iron rods and other protruding objects which pose a serious threat of accidents. Rule 93(8) of Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, permits protrusions up to a one metre or 3.28ft beyond the rear-most point of a vehicle. “Such protrusions cause severe harm to motorists and other road users. Keeping Indian road and traffic conditions in mind, it is a provision that is fraught with danger,” the petition stated.

Newspaper reports state that the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices T S Thakur and J S Khehar issued notice to the Union government and sought the Centre's response on the issue after a PIL gave scary details of thousands of motorists meeting bloodstained deaths every year because of trucks and trailers parked without adequate warning on highways, many carrying iron rods protruding out dangerously. By using the Right to Information (RTI), 'Save Life Foundation', an NGO collected details of fatalities resulting from collision of vehicles with these haphazardly parked trucks, many of which carry construction material, including iron rods and angles. The contention of the NGO was the absence of law to punish the drivers and owners of these trucks, which caused accidents resulting in the death of 8,304 people in two years (2009-11) in eight states.  The petition points out that the penalty usually levied in such cases is done under the heading general provision for punishment of offences under Section 177 of the Act, which is a mere Rs 100 as there is no specific penal provision either in the Motor Vehicles Act or the rules to impose fine on those who park trucks laden with iron rods and construction material without sufficient and clear warning for other motorists.

The NGO besides mandating carrying of iron rods within compact containers also suggested a series of penal measures. It said the owner of the transport company or persons hiring the vehicle and the driver be made jointly and severally liable, both civil and criminal, for any injury caused by such vehicles. Moreover, trucks or other heavy vehicles stationed on the road or road-side must be barricaded by traffic cones and reflector tripods at least from a distance of 50 metre from the rear of the vehicle and all states must adopt uniform regulations in respect of stationary or stalled vehicles on highways and expressways as well as for trucks carrying iron rods and bars.

According to the NGO spearheading this, construction companies transport rods longer than vehicles, which cause them to protrude, either impaling others or causing vehicles to swerve dangerously to avoid them. This is dangerous as when the carrying truck breaks suddenly, the vehicle following would be caught unawares resulting in accidents, sometimes fatal. The lack of laws banning this practice led to indiscriminate loss of lives.  There is compelling necessity for  addressing this issue due to the large number of accidents that have occurred due to vehicles carrying protruding materials. Those which can be avoided are not accidents and occur more due negligence and absence of application of care.

We now look forward to Apex Court for strict laws and stringent measures in  implementing them.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

24th July 2013.

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