BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)nations contribute to 20% of the world’s road accident deaths and India tops the list.While India has less than 3% of the world’s vehicles, it accounts for about11% of the world’s road deaths. In 2016, our roads saw 4,80,652 accidents, injuring 4,94,624 and killing 1,50,785 persons.This translates to, on an average, into 1,317 road accidents and 413 fatalities every day; or 55 road accidents and 17 deaths every hour.The number of fatal road accidents have been increasing consistently since 2005 and stood at 1,36,071 in 2016.Consequently, accident severity expressed in terms of the number of persons killed per 100 accidents, has gone up from 29.1 in 2015 to 31.4 in 2016.Therefore, it is nothing short of “carnage on the roads”.
Road accidents are a result of multiple causes, such as faulty road design, poor road quality, insufficient safety features in vehicles and reckless behaviour of drivers. The deadly concoctions of these are road accidents which not just inflict trauma on victims and socio-economic burden on their families, but also take a huge toll on the health of the country’s economy. Such accidents cost an estimated 3% of GDP each year.
Due to a rapid urbanization, the menace of road traffic crash is increasing in India, and the worst victims are those in the productive age group of 18 – 45 years. Among those who lost their life in 2016 due to road accidents, a staggering 68.6% were from this category. A vast majority of these victims are non-motorized road users and motorcyclists, who are generally from the economically weaker sections of the society. Thus, road safety must be accorded a national priority in our country and adequate steps need to be taken for realising it.
The Government of India has taken various decisions which show its intent to ensure that roads in India remain safer. It has approved a National Road Safety Policy that outlines various policy measures pertaining to road safety. These include raising awareness about road safety, creating a road safety information database, promoting safer road infrastructure, encouraging safer vehicles, training and sensitization of drivers, identifying needs of vulnerable road users, enforcing road safety laws, and ensuring medical facilities for road accident victims. The National Road Safety Council has been constituted as the apex body to take policy decisions in matters of road safety.High priority has been accorded to identification and rectification of black spots (accident prone spots) on national highways. More than 700 such black spots have been identified for improvement.
The Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, 2016, contains provisions to ensure safety on roads. The Bill addresses road safety issues by providing for stricter penalties for traffic offences, permitting electronic and IT enabled enforcement, improving fitness, certification and licensing regime, the statutory provision for protection of good samaritans, etc.India is a signatory to ‘Brasilia Declaration on Road Safety’ under which by 2020, it has committed to reduce the number of road accidents and fatalities by 50%. Recently, NITI Aayog signed a statement of intent with the Geneva based International Road Federation, to develop a National Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Policy to improve road safety, in addition to covering other ITS dimensions.
The rise in number of road traffic accidents in India warrants appropriate and adequate policy interventions.Such policies and strategies could be formulated only if the existing gaps pertaining to post-crash interventions, behaviour change strategies, and identification and establishment of black spots are addressed. The country may begin with the following to build sustainable solutions now, instead of being sorry later.
- Enactment and enforcement of good laws relating to key risk factors can be effective at reducing road traffic injuries and deaths. So, the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, 2016, must be passed at the earliest and implemented as it would save many thousands of lives on the country’s roads.Lack of enforcement frequently undermines the potential of road safety laws to reduce injuries and deaths. So, more emphasis should be placed on optimizing enforcement efforts.It must be ensured that a driving licence is not given to every person who applies for it. Only those must possess it who knows the proper usage of road signages, use of indicators, high beam lights, etc. Over speeding and overloading must be made punishable offences and there must be sincere enforcement of punishment.
- Adequate attention must be accorded to the needs of persons using non-motorised transit which accounts for 66% of India’s 2008 national average mode share. The drivers of two-wheelers are the most vulnerable; constituting 34.8% of total persons killed in 2016. No road safety intervention could be successful unless the needs of those road users are considered. Making walking and cycling safer will also accrue additional benefits such as more physical exercise, reduced emissions, and the associated health benefits.
- Making cars safer is a critical component of saving lives on the roads. Many cars manufactured in India fail the United Nation’s minimum crash test regulations and lack airbags that inflate during a mishap. Policies must be strengthened to ensure minimum international vehicle standards for manufacturers, besides limiting the sale of substandard vehicles.
- To come up with road safety interventions and strategies, analysis of road traffic accidents across the country is a need of the hour. For this systematic data collection method is pivotal as a good quality data makes monitoring easy. Thus, efforts need to be made to improve the quality of data on road traffic injuries. Such data must be harmonised in line with international standards. A comprehensive road safety data would not only facilitate effective road safety management but would also aid an evidence-based strategic approach after diagnosing the causes of serious and fatal injuries in road accidents.
- Road safety is not just about creating infrastructure. It also includes designing behavioural solutions that consider human biases because building the former does not mean people will always follow them. Creating behavioural design nudges is likely to reduce the number of people outlawing. So, efforts must be on to create simple and scientific behavioural design nudges to improve road safety.
- Sensitization and education of vulnerable road users is also required as there have been instances where they flouted traffic rules causing injuries to themselves and others. The usage of subways by the pedestrians must be enforced upon. School curriculum must have the component on road safety education. The focus must not be on mere theoretical learning but must also involve workshops, role plays, make believe situations, movies and field trips, etc.
2. Adviser (Infrastructure – Connectivity), NITI Aayog, Government of India
3. Economic Officer (Infrastructure – Connectivity), NITI Aayog, Government of India
4. Young Professional (Infrastructure – Connectivity), NITI Aayog, Government of India
7. Road Accidents in India - 2016, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India
10.Global Status Report on Road Safety – 2015, World Health Organization
11.Road Accidents in India - 2016, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India