By Waled Aadnan:
For the Government of India which is on the fast track towards expansion of infrastructure facilities in the country, it is time that priority is accorded to road safety along with road network expansion. This urgent need comes in the wake of India being the country with the largest number of road deaths. This dubious distinction was revealed by the World Health Organization in 2009 when it released its first ever Global Status Report on Road Safety. In three years it may have been expected that a more comprehensive policy on road safety involving scientific approaches to traffic engineering would have been adopted by relevant authorities. However, the efforts in this regard remain far from being adequate.
The latest year for which the relevant data on road accidents is available is 2009. The annual publication “Road Accidents in India” for the year 2009 was released in April 2011 by the Transport Research Wing (TRW) of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Government of India. The picture it paints is a grim one. In 2009, there were 4.86 lakh road accidents in India based on the records of respective State Police Departments. These accidents led to 1.25 lakh deaths and injuries to 5.15 lakh people. It translates to a road accident every minute and a death due to a road accident every four minutes somewhere in the country. The biggest victims of such accidents are occupants of trucks and lorries followed by occupants of two-wheelers.
The figures stated above are even higher than that of China’s which has a larger population than India does. Indeed, road accidents have reached an epidemic state in India. And apart from the loss of life and limb, road accidents involve a very high economic cost, especially to a developing country. The Working Group set up by Planning Commission in the year 2000 chaired by Shri Prakash Narain estimated the cost of road accidents to be Rs. 55,000 crores (at 2000 prices), nearly 3% of GDP.
A look into the causes of road accidents would provide us with a better understanding of what needs to be done to improve the road safety scenario in the country. It is estimated that nearly four-fifths of all road accidents occur due to the fault of the driver, while in only 2.2% and 1.3% of the cases is the fault due to the pedestrian and defects in road conditions respectively. The government’s response to the problem has been mostly monetary, with not much strategic improvements made in incorporating scientific traffic engineering as a compulsory ingredient during road design and planning. For the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12) an amount of Rs. 448 crore has been proposed for road safety activities. The allocation towards road safety activities increased dramatically from Rs. 79 crores in 2009-10 to Rs. 180 crores in 2010-11. But the point to be noted is that actual expenditure lags far behind allocation at Rs. 22 crores and Rs. 58 crores for the respective years. Thus, it can be seen that while the monetary fillip is present, the authorities lack an integrated approach towards utilising it efficiently.
An important aspect of road safety that needs urgent introduction in the country is lane driving rules. A large section of National Highways have either been upgraded to four or six lanes or are in the process of such an upgrade. As such, drivers need to be educated, either through direct training or conspicuous signs on roadsides regarding the rules to be followed while deciding which lane to drive in. The following guidelines, if adhered to, would go a long way in reducing the incidence of road accidents in India:
When on a four-lane highway, the driver should always stay on the leftmost lane and use the right lane to only overtake the vehicle in front. The driving behaviour changes in case you are on a six-lane Highway. The speed of vehicles increases as one moves from the leftmost lane to the rightmost lane. Any lane switching in a four-lane or a six-lane highway must begin with the relevant indicator light to change lanes. It is generally believed that once one’s indicator is on, the driver in front would change his/her lane within the next 5- 10 seconds. Hence it is all the more important to respect the driver in front of you if he/she turns on the indicator to change the lane. Most accidents on the 6 lane highways occur either because of incorrect switching of lanes or because of slow vehicles travelling on the wrong lane (rightmost lane).
Keeping these general guidelines in mind, the government’s responsibility in the near future would be to create a dedicated body on Road Safety and Traffic Management, strengthen the system of driver licensing, ensure safety of vulnerable road users, enforce appropriate legislations as well as provide for greater availability of emergency medical attention within the golden hour.