In a tragic accident on September 9, 11 people died and 20 were injured in a collision between a passenger van and a tractor trolley loaded with iron rods in Layyah district of Punjab province. This year, two other similar accidents were reported from the same district causing injuries but luckily no deaths.
Every few months, we get to hear about major accidents leading to deaths due to impalement by iron rods protruding from loader vehicles. In cases where the injured were rescued, the rescuers had to cut the rods piercing through people’s bodies from both sides of the bodies. Gas cutters are avoided as the iron rod can become hot and harm the internal organs of victims.
The survival rates are almost nil where the rods have passed through vital organs, especially heart or brain. In case, the rods are pulled out while rescuing, they may bring entrails along and cause excessive bleeding and death.
Such frequent accidents caused by protruding rods lead to one question: Why can’t the authorities do something about it?
There are laws like the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1965, Motor Vehicles Rules 1969, National Highways Safety Ordinance 2000 that talk about the subject in detail. For example, Section 224 of Motor Vehicle Rules mentions under the title Projection of loads that (1) Nothing shall be placed or carried upon the outside of the double decked public service vehicle. (2) No person shall drive, and no person shall cause or allow to be driven, in any public place any motor vehicle which is loaded in a manner likely to cause danger to any person or in such a manner that the load or any part thereof or anything extends — (a) laterally beyond the side of the body or beyond a vertical plane in prolongation of the side of the body; (b) to the front beyond the fore-most part of the vehicle; (c) to the rear to a distance exceeding four feet beyond the near most part of the vehicle excluding any luggage carrier; and (d) in height by a distance which exceeds eleven feet from the surface upon which the motor vehicles rests.
However there are conditional exemptions and the said clause does not apply to a goods motor vehicle when loaded with any pole or other projecting thing so long as: (a) the projecting load falls within the limits of the body of a trailer being drawn by the goods vehicle; or (b) the distance by which the pole or other thing projects, beyond the rearmost point of the motor vehicle does not exceed six feet; and (c) there is attached to the rear of such pole or other thing in such a way as to be clearly visible from the rear at all times a white circular disc of not less than fifteen inches in diameter, and at night, a lamp in addition to the prescribed lamps on the vehicle so arranged as to show a red light to the rear.
In this context, there is a debate whether these laws and rules be amended or left as they are, especially when they are not serving the purpose. If placing of red flag or lamp at the end of the load is not preventing deaths then what is the purpose of having these provisions.
So, should there be a permanent ban on carrying loads extending the length of the vehicle.
A Punjab police officer, who has served in the traffic wing, on condition of anonymity shares that “it is very hard to tame transporters who always threaten to go on strike”. He cites the example of oil tankers’ association which objected to the condition of upgrading their road safety mechanisms and sought four years’ time for compliance.
He says, “this ban can be imposed even in the presence of the said laws and exemptions through standing orders, the way permissible acts in normal conditions can be banned by imposing Section 144 in certain circumstances.”
The officer cites the example of Indian government which, in 2014, removed the provision in motor vehicle rules that allowed protrusions up to one metre. “This step was taken in 2012 as around 9,100 people had died in India in 28,217 accidents caused due to load protrusions.”
Rehman Aziz Chan, former vice chairman, Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) and a representative of the steel re-rolling industry, tells TNS “there are strict restrictions on transportation of iron rods and bars in a way that they are hanging out of the transporting vehicle. If the traffic police intercept such a vehicle, they impose heavy fines, impound it and keep it in custody for days. This results in incurring of demurrages, loss of business and resentment on part of a dissatisfied end customers due to a delayed delivery.”
Anyhow, he says, “such vehicles are allowed to enter the cities late at night provided they take precautionary measures, drive slow, and remain on far left side of the road.”
Chan explains “there are two types of iron rods transported on vehicles — one with total length equal to or below 40 feet and the other longer than this that may go up to 160 feet. The 40-feet rods are easily loaded in a closed truck whereas the larger ones have to be transported with their certain length protruding from the vehicle”.
He says the “latter are manufactured on the demand of dealers and stockists based in smaller cities and suburban areas. They need longer rods so that they can cut and sell these as per the demand of their buyers”.
Despite the presence of laws on statute books, we keep hearing about accidents because the authorities and law enforcers turn a blind eye to it. This is especially more pronounced in a city like Karachi (where most steel mills are) and the adjoining districts. Ghulam Muhammad Afridi, General Secretary, Karachi Goods Carriers Association (KGCA), shares that “vehicles with goods including iron and steel protruding from them are not allowed to ply on motorways and certain highways as there is zero tolerance policy in this regard. But within Karachi city and outside, there seems to be a tacit approval because business cannot flourish otherwise.”
Afridi says, “there are between 200 and 250 steel mills in Karachi that have to deliver the product. What happens is that such vehicles are issued challan chits every day. This way the law is enforced without obstructing the transportation of the merchandise.”
The Institute of Road Safety and Traffic Environment Pakistan (IRSTEP) is a non-governmental organisation headquarterd in Islamabad and working on road safety issues in the country. IRSTEP Chairman, Kaiser J Khatana, terms “the lack of enforcement of laws as the foremost reason for fatal accidents in Pakistan like those caused due to impalement by protruding objects. Unfortunately, the exact number of deaths due to impalement in road accidents in Pakistan is not available, though the World Health Organisation (WHO) has put the overall figure of deaths in road traffic accidents (RTAs) to be around 30,000 every year.
Khatana says, “it’s a pity that while RTAs are coming down in the US and Europe, their number is on the rise in Pakistan which is ranked as country ranked with 9th highest number of RTA related deaths in the world.”