The automobile, one of the outstanding inventions of science, serves business, industry and social life as a whole for fast and easy transport of person and goods. Means of transportation has touched almost every aspect of society and therefore it’s impossible to imagine life without transportation. This is also the reason why the number of vehicles (private) is increasing in spite of alarmingly increase in daily congestion, accidents, pollution and the burning issue on scarcity of petroleum products.
With the increase in number of vehicles on the road, it has been a challenge for the highway engineers for the design of road and roadside structures. Observing the daily traffic jams, congestion and road accidents, it’s not only felt necessary but an immediate requirement to improve the performance of roadways or highways. But what are the factors that directly or indirectly affect their performance is the main question before answering how it can be improved. As in case of Nepal, maximum highways that might have been constructed following all the engineering procedure failed the maintenance process. In the absence of maintenance works, the useful life of pavement is drastically reduced deteriorating the pavement which ultimately results in the waste of high investment and sincere effort of engineers. If one observes closely, it would be found that the disturbance on the smooth operation of traffic doesn’t relay only on faulty design of pavement and intersection but the problem shifts somewhere else- somewhere o human characteristics and road user’s behavior. And it has already been proved that the number of road mishap stories due to human failure is much higher that that due to the vehicle or pavement failure.
The word ‘road user’ circumscribes all the group of people using the roadways for their journey. They include motorists, cyclists, cart drivers/rickshaw peddlers, pedestrians and highway / street child or adults talking or playing on or around the road. Human beings are directly involved in it along with their interaction with their vehicles in accordance with the surrounding environment. The road user’s characteristics may be physical, mental or emotional and psychological which directly determines their respective behavior on the road. Further more they can be distinguished as permanent type and temporary type.
Permanent characteristics:-
a. Vision:
Vision is a pre-requisite for safe driving. Without vision a person is incapable for safe driving although the technology might make it possible, if not now may be in future, but when it comes to safety a person must need to go through the perception- reaction to traffic situation before the actual collision or accident. In vision, the main concern is visual acuity; which means the ability to focus quickly and see fine details clearly. It includes depth perception- needed for distances judgment and speed during maneuver, peripheral vision- relates to an individual’s ability to see objects outside the cone of vision (limit of fairly clear sight is within cone of angle 10-12 degrees); color blindness – as about 8% of men and 4% of women are estimated to be suffered from color blindness and hence reduces the ability to distinguish between red and green, night vision- for night driving with headlights. Glare recovery is also important factor to be considered as glare from approaching headlights greatly reduces visibility. Hence form above, it is clear that the present tests which are carried out during license trial are superfluous and static in nature and need to be improved.
b. Hearing and smelling:
Hearing is the next important characteristics. The research has shown that drivers having hearing problem can have 1.8 times more accidents. Hearing is used to derive information about vehicle engines. Sirens, traffic signals, horns etc. in case of drivers here, half of the hearing is occupied by the music player which reduces the alertness. Smell, though not as important as vision or hearing, can help detect the leakage of petroleum or problematic tyres and hence can’t be neglected.
c. Sex:
Though not significantly, it is seen certain variation on the behavior of male and female. Males tend to drive faster and ready to drink and drive, whereas females are less experienced in the art of driving, slow in judgment process and easy to get distracted though not necessarily.
Temporary characteristics:
a. Drinking effect:
Alcohol, which after get absorbed into blood, affects directly to the brain and reduces the alertness of driver. This increases the reaction time as the visions is blunted and ultimately make them prone to accidents. As the mental process gets slow, the alcoholic tend to take more risks due to the ill-judged maneuvers. In Nepal it is seen that drinking and driving is mostly done during night which adds more risk to accidents as the low night visibility adds up the delay in reaction to stimuli.
b. Accident proneness:
Studies have shown that certain group of road users is more prone to accidents. For example drivers under 30 years are more likely to have accidents than those over 30. Women get into accident very less than men. Middle class drivers are less likely to suffer accidents than working class drivers, similarly highly trained/ experienced drivers are less likely than poorly trained ones. The other studies show the accident repeaters registered by the authority have aggressive tendencies, single, divorced or separated, also the more are semi- skilled or unskilled social groups, unemployed, consume excess quantity of alcohol regularly etc.
C. illness:
People having illness like heart ailments, epilepsy and diabetics shouldn’t drive. The illness may cause physical inability to drive, mental tension and lack of concentration.
Psychological factors:
Emotional factors as attentiveness, impatience, general attitude towards traffic and its regulation, maturity affects the reaction to traffic, situation to great extend. With the motive of getting more passengers, the drivers are found to divert their eyes on pedestrians rather than on the road. The struggle to reach a bus sop faster than next vehicle is the main reason of vehicle collision. The impatience in pedestrian, while crossing roads boarding a bus or getting off, may born many unexpected accidents. Due to the flexibility of traffic police (taking bribes to forget the drivers’ mistake) encourage drivers to be careless about the rules and hence disturb in the smooth operation of other vehicles. Distraction caused by non traffic events, absent minds, fear, anger and worries reduce alertness to traffic situation. There is always one in every five driver who is driving who is driving in anger that may be due to his or the conductor’s arguments with the passengers or simply because of the driver of next vehicle who has taken all his passenger. Most of the drivers don’t pay due respect to the traffic regulation whereas some other think they are the only one on the road.
The existing condition of road user characteristics and behavior can only be changed through efficient formulation and strict implementation of traffic rules and regulation, education and motivation to the people and awareness to the drivers and pedestrians. The change in the human behavior is not impossible but a slow process that may take long time. In spite of being slow, it must be carried out since we don’t have a choice.