Give more attention to highways

Editorial, Normal

THE hideous collision by two coaster buses on Tuesday evening scattered bodies and car parts all over the road near Umi Bridge in Markham, Morobe province.
This is not the first time that accidents have occurred on this stretch of the highway. The stretch between Gusap and Umi Bridge at Mutzing experiences far more accidents than other parts. There appears to be a psychological reason for it.
Drivers travelling out of Lae towards Madang or the Highlands provinces have just driven through some of the flattest stretches of road in PNG. In some places, the road stretches a fair 15km in a straight line, you can fall asleep driving.
Nearing Mutzing, many of these outbound drivers are dizzy from the high speeds they have been hurtling at and drowsy from doing very little physical action other than keeping the accelerator to the floor and keeping both hands on the steering wheel.
Often they will stop at the Mutzing market to let passengers relieve themselves and for the drivers to stretch their legs before continuing on. Many times they will drive right past.
In the other direction, drivers from the Highlands have just been negotiating some of the most winding stretches of road in the country through two mountain passes and winding country.
Their attention is called upon at every turn, every minute of the way.
When they hit the Markham stretch at Gusap relieved drivers just depress the accelerator to the floor, move the gear into fifth and drop their guard as they settle down for the cruise down the Markham.
And so, in either direction, you have a situation where the chances for accidents are high at Mutzing. Adding to this, the potholes and the obscene speeds these buses are travelling at and the situation becomes really dangerous.
It is exactly at this spot that speed checks and perhaps a permanent road block need to be manned.
Today, while relatives mourn, others will make calls on Government to do something about road safety.
Member for Markham Koni Iguan took Tuesday’s accident as an opportunity to press for a big mortuary at the Mutzing health centre. We find that quite preposterous and unfeeling, given the enormity of the human casualty. He seems to suggest that there will be further accidents, which there might be, but we would rather he suggested ways to prevent them rather than clean up after them.
The Government will make some sympathetic noises about the road conditions and might even announce some measures.
But we ask: Why must our Government always respond to crisis? Why do we wait until it happens?
Following a fatal road accident at the same stretch of road last February this newspaper warned of just what might happen because of the deteriorating condition of the road, why this is so and the excessive unchecked speeds taken on this highway. In that accident four people and an unborn fetus perished on the spot.
Columnist Frank Senge Kolma wrote the following in his column: “The fatal accident last week at Mutzing on the Highlands Highway is tragic but entirely avoidable.
“This was an accident waiting to happen. Many more await. And they are all entirely avoidable.
“The bad state of this highway, the economic aorta to the five Highlands provinces, is due in part to the heavy and unchecked continued use of this very old road by heavy haulage trucks and in part to the normal weathering process.
“Unless resealed, this highway is dying slowly. The unchecked very high speeds of vehicles along this highway in the state it is in guarantees the increasing number of fatal accidents.”
Kolma would not have been the first one or the last. There have been many more people who have warned of this and who have suggested measures.
Just improving the road condition is not enough. There is more, much more to sustaining the longevity of highway life and to preventing accidents than mere road patching.
Something must be done about the weights carried on this old deteriorating highway. There needs to be a weighing station at Lae to control weight of cargo bound for the Highlands. A similar station must be operated out of Mt Hagen and Goroka.
And there must be speed limits and speed radars at selected spots along the highway to detect which vehicles are breaking the speed limits.Heavy weights on an old highway which might not have been designed to take such weights are a guarantee for further serious damage and eroding of road surfaces. And a highway littered with potholes and high speed by reckless drivers is a guarantee for fatal accidents.