By Shruti Sinha:
Commuting from one place to another is a fundamental attribute of our daily lives. The primary – and ideally – singular utility of roads is that of transit.
The basic and universal nature of transit makes resolving conflicts between different types of road users a vital component of the road safety narrative. Various types of road users, ranging from pedestrians and two-wheelers to cars and buses, occupy the roads simultaneously. Every category of road users comes with its set of needs and peculiarities. Interventions are planned in such a way that the needs of every type of road user are met, while also ensuring minimal clash and chaos.
However, given the high levels of economic disparities, unequal access to resources and unprecedented growth in population, a number of people have to live and work along the periphery of the roads. This further deepens the challenge of resolving the conflicts between road users.
A street child is widely defined as “any girl or boy who has not reached adulthood, for whom the street (in the broadest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become her or his habitual abode and/or sources of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, supervised or directed by responsible adults.”
According to UNICEF, India housed 11 million street children in 1994. Broadly categorised, the ‘children of the street’ are homeless, living and sleeping on the streets in urban areas. They may have been abandoned or rejected by families or had left their homes. The other category is ‘children on the street’, who earn their living or beg on the streets and return home at night.
Whatever be the category, one can safely assume that these children run a high risk of being injured and even dying in road crashes/accidents. Generally speaking, the former category is at a greater risk here.
Amongst the various categories of road users, pedestrians and bicyclists face the highest exposure to the risk of road crashes. Going by the age-group typology, children, especially below the age of 14, are particularly vulnerable to road mishaps.
From a socio-economic lens, poorer communities tend to be at a higher risk of getting injured or dying as a result of road accidents. Studies conducted in different parts of the world have shown that-
1. Low income and poverty are associated with the largest number of child pedestrian crashes (in Memphis in the US).
2. The risk of pedestrian injury for children in the lowest socio-economic stratum is more than twice that of children of higher socio-economic categories ( in the UK).
In this regard, street children aged below 18 are at the intersection of belonging to the lowest socio-economic stratum and being pedestrians (by virtue of inhabiting roads) – thereby making them the most vulnerable to road mishaps.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) in India, 69, 425 children in the age group 0-14 lost their lives to road accidents between 2006 and 2015. In 2015 alone, 15,633 lives, below the age of 18, were lost to the same. In the same year, 7088 pedestrians also lost their lives.
Thus, while existing official data quantifies the number of deaths among the different categories of road users and age groups, one cannot calculate the fatalities according to socio-economic categories. Moreover, given the ‘invisible’ and ‘marginalised’ status of ‘children of the streets’, data about road accidents among these groups remain absent. This makes it hard for policy makers to gauge the real situation.
The best international practices for the safety of pedestrians include building sidewalks, creating non-motorised road users-only zones and redesigning public spaces to cater to the specific needs of pedestrians – among other such interventions.
Measures to ensure the safety of children involve setting speed limits and ‘traffic-calming’ measures in areas particularly populated with children such as schools and children parks. Adult accountability (parental or any other person authorised to oversee children such as teachers) is recognised as paramount towards ensuring the safety of children on roads.
However, even if such interventions are implemented well, they cannot address the unique problem posed by street children. The problem is unique in the following ways:
1. In order to fulfil their bare minimum needs for survival, they must come out on the roads and be in contact with the traffic – as beggars and vendors.
2. Residing on and by the side of the roads increases their exposure to the traffic on the road.
3. The lack of adult accountability or of a person to take care of the children if their live is at peril leaves them with a non-existent support system.
Thus, apart from the increased risk of injury and deaths, these children are also on the margins when it comes to post-accident support and care.
The solution to this peculiar and pressing challenge should definitely cut across various spheres in the policy arena.
First, there is a tremendous scope for improving in the way in which data is collected. Using the socio-economic lens while collecting and quantifying data can help provide a clearer perspective on the current situation.
Dedicated approaches to improving road safety – from unbiased and strict penalisation for road traffic violations (such as speeding and drunken driving) to improving emergency care – are indispensable. In this context, the passage of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016, will act as a milestone to setting the foundation for progressive interventions towards an improved road safety situation in India.
Additionally, interventions for vulnerable road users must be enacted and enforced while also keeping in mind the situation posed by street children (and adults).
Most importantly, all of the aforementioned interventions will permeate to this section of the population only when a consistent social welfare and equity approach, with measures to provide a basic, dignified life for those ‘of’ and ‘on’ the streets, are in place and expedited.
Join our campaign to push our MPs to pass the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in the parliament on a priority basis at www.roadsafetyatrisk.in.