Road accidents: Why govt data on deaths is questionable

New Delhi: On an average, 17 Indians died every hour in road accidents last year. Unsurprisingly, India tops road accident deaths, with roughly 1.5 lakh Indians dying on the roads in 2015 when total number of accidents crossed the five lakh mark. That is 400 people dying on our roads each day. Delhi, which has more vehicles than Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata put together, reported the highest number of deaths at 1622 due to road accidents among India’s top cities during 2015,. In other words, close to five Delhiites died on the roads daily. Tamil Nadu topped the list of all states with most number of accidents at 69,059 or close to 190 accidents a day. 15642 people lost their lives in this one state alone last year or at the rate of almost 43 people every day. As vehicle population multiplies, what are we doing to bring down deaths due to road accidents?

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Stricter and better implementation of traffic rules is a no-brainer. Of course we need much better implementation of traffic rules, better road design and a vastly improved road usage skills to improve accident rates on our roads. But this is not nearly enough. Though the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has proposed a slew of measures and earmarked a significant budget for reducing road fatalities, what someone needs to tell the government is that it must begin with the basics.

Look at Auckland in New Zealand, which has a population of just about a million people but has at least 40 officers specifically tasked with thinking up ways to enhance road safety. In the United States, this number is close to 500. In India, it is zero. We have no nodal body which looks after road safety, which has officers trained specifically to study the safety aspect and suggest ways to enhance safety on India’s roads. Instead of making fancy pronouncements on improving road design and asking vehicle makers to install safety equipment (which is a good move), the government needs to first listen to experts and create a mindset about safety. How about having programmes on safety in our universities, courses which enable youngsters to specialize in this aspect of traffic management and then go on to make careers out of this?

Dinesh Mohan, former professor of IIT Delhi and a transport expert points out that governments world over have established research centres for traffic management and road safety with highly trained people studying these aspects but no such thought has been put into enhancing road safety in India. “Anyway, the statistics government puts out are also not believable. According to our own study, pedestrians account for 35-40% of road deaths and another 30% come from two wheelers, with cyclists accounting for 10-15% of deaths. Government data does not corroborate that.”

According to “Road Accidents in India 2015” report released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways last week, roughly every third road user killed in road accidents was on a two wheeler, pedestrians accounted for less than 10% of deaths and cars, taxi, vans and other LVCs together accounted for 17.2% of deaths in 2015. The report acknowledges that information contained in it has been collected from police headquarters of states and union territories through specifically designated nodal officers.

The MoRTH has earmarked Rs 600 crore for this fiscal to correct road engineering defects. It has identified 700 black spots – those places where five or more deaths occurred during the previous year – and promises to put in place an “institutional structure” during the year to tackle the road death menace. The report on accidents in 2015 also mentions that road safety curricula are being incorporate in school syllabii. But till a dedicated body tasked with studying road safety and implementing safety parameters is formed, these efforts may at best skirt the issue at hand.

Remember, Road Transport and Highways minister Nitin Gadkari has already set himself a goal of reducing road fatalities by 50% by 2020. That is just four years away. Some efforts are being made to emphasise on road safety but have not been successful so far.

A Bill to create the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board (NRSTMB) was introduced in Lok Sabha in 2010 but lapsed subsequently. Now the Ministry has drafted a new Road Transport & Safety Bill. National Road Safety & Traffic Management Authority (NRSTMA) has been made part of this Bill. The Ministry proposes for creation of NRSTMA through an executive order, pending
the enactment of Road Transport and Safety Bill.

Some medium term measures have also been announced by Gadkari’s ministry. All two wheelers manufactured on and after the 1st April, 2019 will be mandatorily fitted with anti-lock braking system (which prevents vehicle skidding). Mandatory crash test for vehicles with regard to Head on Collision, Offset Frontal Collision has also been announced with specific timelines. According to this report in the Times of India,

Gadkari said it was a “matter of pain“ for him to share the rising graph of road deaths even as the sector itself scripted several success stories over the past two years. The minister added that his ministry will take two immediate steps to check fatalities on narrow highways in hill states and high-speed corridors that witness more fatal crashes: install crash barriers all along hill roads to reduce chances of vehicles falling off the road and deploy advanced ambulances with vehicle-cutting equipment on stretches such as the Mumbai-Pune expressway.

The report on accidents in 2015 showed that almost three in four accidents on India's roads happen due to driver's fault. Gadkari has been speaking against the ease with which a driving licence is available in India and of measures to streamline this entire process. But what steps have been taken to ensure stricter checks on drving licenses remains unclear.

Some other proposals of the Road Safety and Transport Bill mentioned earlier include a provision of cashless treatment for all road accident victims during 'Golden Hour': Coupled with another provision, which seeks to provide mandatory insurance to all road users through a dedicated accident fund, this is a welcome provision. The draft bill proposes setting up a Motor Accident Fund for this purpose.

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2016 13:55 PM

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