- Four sleeping men were run over by a drunken techie in Delhi, killing two of them
- An overspeeding car hit the divider on Delhi Jaipur highway, was hit by a truck coming from another side, killing six and injuring one
The above two incidents occurred in a span of a day (Sept 9, 2018), and they are hardly the lone ones. In 2017, a whopping 1.47 lakh people died in road deaths in India, which is equivalent to the entire pollution of Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. Every year, over a lakh die as a result of road crashes and the proportion of those who get injured is nearly three to four times higher.
Taking road safety as a serious issue, in 2015, India signed the Brasilia declaration and committed to reducing road accidents and fatalities by half. So far, the fall in road accidents has not been substantial. In 2017, road accidents in India decreased by merely 3.27% with 4,64,910 road crashes as against 4,80,652 in 2016. Fatalities resulting from these accidents saw a even smaller drop — just 1.92%. As many as 147,913 persons died in road crashes in 2017 against 1,50,785 in 2016. This not so encouraging data is further marred by road fatalities figures of the first quarter of 2018 which show a 1.68% rise over the corresponding previous quarter.
INDIAN ROAD DEATHS WIPE OUT ONE CITY EVERY YEAR
To put the death toll due to road accidents in perspective — in the last one decade, the average annual road death crashes stand at 1.3 lakh per year – a figure that surpasses the population of many small Indian cities.
YOUTH THE LARGEST CASUALTY OF ROAD CRASHES
It’s young lives that are the snuffed out most due to road accidents in India. In 2016, a staggering 60% of people who lost their lives in road accidents were in the age group of 18-35 years. Tragically, majority of them were the sole earning members of their families.
WHO IS TO BLAME?
Road-users, you might think. Driving at high speeds, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, tiredness or without a helmet are indeed responsible for high number of deaths in road crashes. But factors such as pathetic conditions of roads and vehicles, poor visibility and poor road design and engineering — including quality of material and construction — cannot be overlooked. “Road engineering is the least questioned when it comes to road crashes,” says Piyush Tewari, CEO SaveLife Foundation, a road safety NGO. ”Many road accidents are the result of faulty road-design and engineering. The road, especially a single-lane one with a sharp curve poses a big danger. It should be designed in a way that one can see the vehicle coming from other side,” adds Amar Srivastava, founder, Indian Road Safety Campaign, Solve. In fact, in 2016, 529 lives were lost because of engineering and design faults.
While India has a national road safety policy in place, it has been ineffective for the want of strong legislation and coordination amongst various ministries. In 2016, the government identified 726 black spots on national highways and allocated Rs 11,000 crore to fix them. However, in the last two years only 189 spots have been rectified by the government.
As far as road-user behaviour laws are concerned, barring seat belts, no other law on road safety in India aligns itself with international best practices. Also, the seat belt law doesn’t differentiate between frontal and rear seat occupants, a practice followed internationally. Worse, child safety, is still an alien concept in our country. And while wearing a helmet while riding a two wheeler, is in force by law, it is ineffective as the law bizarrely fails to specify that the helmet must be fastened.
In 2016, over 50,000 or a third of road fatalities were recorded among two-wheeler drivers or riders and the maximum deaths resulted because of head injuries.
…AND INEFFECTIVE ENFORCEMENT
To reduce road crashes, the law needs to be enforced properly. A case in point is wearing seat belts: As per WHO, wearing seat belts reduces the risk of fatality and serious injuries among front seat passengers by 45% and 25% for rear seat passengers. In India, though the law is in place, its enforcement and communication is weak. Shockingly, the key reason why people don’t wear seat belts in the country is that seat belts crumple clothes!
Sadly, India loses 3% of its GDP due to road accidents, most of which were highly preventable. In part two of our series on road accidents we explore if the new Motor Vehicle Bill Act can change that?