A series of concrete steps taken by the government towards improving road safety in the last four years raises hopes of a significant decline in road accident fatalities.
On 23 April, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) will kick off the Road Safety Week this year, with several events aimed at engaging the students, general public, the corporate sector and the NGOs in efforts to make the roads safer.
Road accident statistics in India are indeed grim: approximately 1.5 lakh deaths and 5 lakh injuries every year. I’d much rather not harp on the oft-circulated figures. Rather, I’d like to provide an overview of the road safety scenario in India, which stands at a cusp, where public participation can take it to another level; public apathy, on the other hand, can undo all the good work that has been undertaken in the last 3-4 years.
Let me quickly acquaint you with the major steps taken by the ministry under the leadership of Nitin Gadkari.
One of the key decisions of the government in addressing this issue has been to extend the total stretch of national highways in the country from a meagre 97,000 kilometres to 2,00,000 kilometres in the next five years. India has a total road length of 5.2 million kilometres, but as much as 40 percent of the traffic moved on national highways constituting just two percent of the total road length, thus causing the high accident figures. Doubling the length of National Highways will ease out traffic and reduce accidents.
Another important step has been the conversion of vast stretches of 2-lane highways into 4-lane highways. Earlier highways which registered more than 15,000 (pcu) passenger car units per day qualified for conversion to four-lane highways. Now the government has brought down the qualifying criterion to 10,000 (pcu) per day. The conversion of two-lane highways into four-lane highways naturally brings down road accidents as there is a bifurcating divider which effectively makes these roads one-way.
The third key initiative has been to involve the public in identifying ‘black-spots” on the highways. Black spots are the places where maximum accidents occur. After extensive study, the government identified 726 black spots across the country where repair and rectification work is on in full swing. Moreover, this is now a continuous process. Newer spots are identified and correction is initiated.
One of the main reasons for the high casualty rate of road accident victims was the huge amount of time wasted in making quality emergency care available to them. To address this, based on a directive from the Supreme Court, the government has laid out specific guidelines whereby a Good Samaritan helping a road victim will not face any harassment from the hospital, police and related authorities. Over a period of time, this step is bound to reduce accident fatalities.
Moreover, the government stands committed to getting the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill passed in Parliament. The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha last year but since then it has been pending for review with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism, and Culture. The focus of the amendment bill apart from strict norms is, the safety of the road users, road accident victims, stricter driving licensing norms and penalties for law violators.
In addition to all these, Ministry of Road Transport is pushing for intelligent traffic systems which will enable them to immediately track, real-time, when there is a traffic violation. Modernising systems with the latest technology is something which is top of his ministries agenda for now. Another unprecedented step is the setting up an Indian Bridge Management System (IBMS) which contains a real-time inventory of all bridges across the country with their updated repairs and maintenance requirements records. Prior to this, there was no cumulative database of bridges, some of which are over 100 years old. At the same time, the government has laid down specific guidelines for speed-breakers, which account for 30 crashes and 9 deaths on an average every day.
Sustained and focused efforts have resulted in a three percent decline in road accident fatalities in 2017. While these are some of the key steps taken by the government, the larger challenge is to change mindsets, especially as most accidents in India are caused by human error or callousness. Unless safety is ingrained into individual citizen’s psyche, optimal results may elude us. This is where the NGOs, the corporate sector and citizen groups have an equally important partnering role to play in reducing road accident fatalities. Their support in the last few years have been encouraging and it only needs to get bigger from here.
Quite a few of the automobile manufacturers have been carrying out innovative road safety campaigns through animation films, events and driver training programmes. However, If we really want to drill road safety into our national conscience, we will need to link it with the responsibilities of a good citizen. This is where the participation of students becomes crucial. If all educational institutes in the country can explore road safety dialogues as an essential part of the institution’s extra curricular activities, it will completely change the society’s outlook on the issue. Students should be given a road safety pledge. Ideally, we must raise the pitch of our road safety campaign to a point where we aggressively promote a road safety badge that features prominently on a vehicle. The sticker could read: I pledge to be a responsible road user.
The government’s target of reducing road accidents by 50 precent may seem an uphill task but a attitudinal change in the society is fairly apparent.
Tuhin Sinha is an author and young BJP leader.
Updated Date: Apr 22, 2018 19:14 PM