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How Speed Limits That Make Little Sense Are Adding To The Road Safety Crisis In India

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By Ravitej Prasad

Image source: Wikipedia
Image source: Wikipedia

In a tragic incident late on the night of December 14, an over-speeding car hit a divider, killing the co-passenger in Delhi’s South Extension area. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 48,654 persons died in 2014 in road accidents due to over-speeding. This means that almost 33% of over-speeding cases result in fatalities. Incidentally, over-speeding also remains the single biggest cause of road accident deaths in India with over 36% of all road traffic accident deaths occurring solely due to this reason.

The Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE) recently conducted a detailed study of traffic management for the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D). In the study, it was found that 100% of vehicles were driven above the prescribed speed on select National Highways at spots with speed limit signages. This is a clear indicator that not only are the speed limit signages ignored by drivers, but the percentage of vehicles flouting the limit shows the unscientific nature in which speed limits are assigned in the first place, as they are not in sync with vehicular capabilities, road geometry, and even road quality.

Having lower speed limits is an exercise followed by enforcement authorities across the world, as it arguably gives the authorities a false understanding that road users would automatically adhere to the limits, in addition to easier interception of offending vehicles. But logic dictates that road users will continue to drive at a speed that they may think is safe, with complete disregard to the prescribed speed limit as may be displayed on the highway. As an example, the Mumbai-Pune expressway has the lowest speed limit for any expressway in the world – 80 km/h – yet has the highest number of accidents and fatalities for a highway of its class.

In fact, in a study conducted in about 20 countries, it was found that up to 90% of drivers believe they are above-average, low-risk drivers and that they can drive over the limit without placing themselves at high risk. Although human perception of highway safety is often misplaced, and inaccurate personal judgment of one’s own driving is a leading cause of mishaps, better road geometry with accurate speed limit determinants can, in fact, lead to uniformity and better enforcement.

Another drawback to having lower speed limits is that with the absence of proper accident investigation as is the case with India, road contractors are indirectly allowed to avoid liability in case of any accident due to improper road design, as it becomes easy to blame the driver for driving above the speed limit, even if it is set unreasonably low. Even enforcement authorities frequently ignore over-speeding as an offence due to the ambiguous nature of setting blanket speed limits on differing classes of roads.

Having said that, increased speed limits does not mean that they be done arbitrarily without scientific understanding of the road geometry. A blanket speed limit on a particular class of roads is neither advised nor desirable. It was only after 25 years, in August 2014, that the government decided to revise the speed limits on all National Highways by way of a notification. Light motor vehicles are now permitted a maximum of 100 km/h.

However, the nature of the notification is such that this speed limit has been set without taking into consideration the difference in quality of different National Highways. Indian highways have seen a constant expansion since independence with projects being fast-tracked now. We have 2-laned, 4-laned, 6-laned as well as 8-laned National Highways, each of which warrant speed limits based on comprehensive research on the quantum and type of traffic, type and level of development alongside, road function, proportion of vulnerable road users, environmental emissions, grade separations and the presence of merging or diverging lanes.

Having safer roads is not a simple question with a binary solution, but a complex network of different aspects that come into play. Effective enforcement, being an important pillar to having safe roads, requires effectiveness of all these aspects including speed limit indicators. The question, therefore, is not to whether increase or decrease speed limits to ensure safer roads, but whether a scientific analysis of speed limits on all classes of roads, on a case to case basis, is a necessity or not. It’s time our policy makers agree that it is.

About the author: Ravitej Prasad is Senior Associate, Policy & Research at SaveLIFE Foundation, a non-profit organisation committed to improving road safety in India.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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