The third Sunday of November every year is observed as the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims – to remember the millions of people who’ve been killed and seriously injured on the world’s roads…and to acknowledge the suffering of all affected victims, families and communities. Globally, over 3500 people die every day on the roads, which amounts to nearly 1.3 million preventable deaths and an estimated 50 million injuries each year – making it the leading killer of children and young people worldwide. An estimate suggests road accidents could cause around 13 million deaths and 500 million injuries during the next decade, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Recognizing the enormity of the problem and the need to act, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in September 2020, proclaiming the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030, with the ambitious target of preventing at least 50% of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030. This year marks the beginning of the Second Decade for Action for Road Safety. The Global Plan on Improving Road Safety was launched by the United Nations last month, calling on countries to deliver on the resolution’s target by make roads safer in the coming years, saving lives, and preventing serious injuries.
Causes of Road Accidents:
- Many road accidents are the result of faulty road-design especially a single-lane one with a sharp curve.
- Infrastructural deficits: Pathetic conditions of roads and vehicles, poor visibility and poor road design and engineering – including quality of material and construction.
- Negligence and risks: Over speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, tiredness or riding without a helmet, driving without seatbelts.
- Distraction while driving like talking over mobile phones while driving has become a major cause of road accidents.
- Overloading to save cost of transportation.
- Weak Vehicle Safety Standards in India: In 2014, crash tests carried out by the Global New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) revealed that some of India’s top-selling car models have failed the UN’s frontal impact crash test.
- Lack of awareness among people regarding importance of safety features like airbags, Anti-lock Braking system etc. Moreover, Vehicle manufacturers do not provide them as standard fitment but only in higher class of vehicles reducing their reach.
- Implementation of Legislation: The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act of 2019 has provisions that aim to bring about change.
- Behavioural Changes: Increasing motorcycle helmet use, increasing seat-belt uses and increasing child restraint use. Awareness regarding influence of alcohol on driving.
- Safe Roads: Safety consideration during the planning, design, and operation of roads, can contribute to reducing road traffic deaths and injuries.
- Vehicular Safety Standards: Vehicle safety features such as electronic stability control, effective Car Crash Standards and advanced braking should be made mandatory.
- Awareness and Publicity: Mass media and social media should be used effectively for spreading awareness about road safety.
- Training and capacity building: Training courses and training workshops have been organized for building capacity in road safety audits and road safety engineering.
- Motor Vehicle Accident Fund is proposed to be created. It will provide compulsory insurance cover to all road users in India for certain types of accidents.
Results of the amendments made to the Motor Vehicles Act:
- As the prime mover of these changes, he finds the reported reduction in crashes, notably in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, proof of the law’s beneficial impact.
- Establishing and maintaining a data management system that monitors and analyses road accidents will help identify accident hot spots and enable the authorities to pin point what needs to be done to make these patches safer.
- Although road safety data in India is collected by the police departments of all states, this information needs to be analysed, with targets and policies set accordingly.
- However, Any reduction in road safety incidents in a rapidly motorising country is encouraging, but the cold reality is that data on those who lose their lives or are incapacitated do not reflect a marked decline.
- In fact, they underscore the culture of indifference among States. Unlike acute crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sent governments scrambling to save lives and stop economic derailment, a chronic malaise such as deadly road accidents begets only token measures.
- The new Motor Vehicles law does have more muscle in being able to levy stringent penalties for road rule violations some States are using it but that is not the same as saying that India has moved to a scientific road system marked by good engineering, sound enforcement, appropriate technology use and respect for all road users.
Way Ahead measures need to be adopted:
- The transition to a professional road environment requires implementation of first-tier reforms that deal with quality of road infrastructure, facilities for vulnerable users and zero-tolerance enforcement of rules by a trained, professional and empowered machinery.
- A key mechanism of change are District Road Safety Committees, which were enabled even by the 1988 Act, but remain obscure.
- A mandatory monthly public hearing of such committees involving local communities can highlight safety concerns, and their follow-up action can then be supervised by the Members of Parliaments’ Road Safety Committees, created last year.
- It is essential to make the Collector, local body and police accountable.
- Making dashboard cameras mandatory, with the video evidence accepted in investigation, would protect rule-abiding motorists and aid enforcement.
- To save lives on highways, quality trauma care at the district level holds the key.
- In the absence of good hospitals and cashless free treatment, no significant improvement is possible in the quest to save life and limb.
- Establishing a clear national goal and pursuing it in mission mode through an appropriately resourced lead agency is something India should focus on as a priority.
- The amended Motor Vehicle Act, in fact, makes a provision for exactly such an agency—the National Road Safety Board. States are being encouraged to create independent lead agencies as well.
- The human cost in this is enormous, and so is the impact on the economy.
- A World Bank study has found that if India were to successfully halve road deaths and injuries between 2014 and 2038, it could potentially add 14 percent to its GDP per capita.
- The National Road Safety Strategy, also envisages halving the number of road accident fatalities by 2025.