India loses 1.5 lakh lives due to road accidents every year; here is how most of them can be saved

While India accounts for about 1% of motor vehicles globally, it records more than 11% of road traffic deaths

Amit Bhatt October 12, 2021 10:41:03 IST
India loses 1.5 lakh lives due to road accidents every year; here is how most of them can be saved

Representational Image. Pixabay

Every year, the lives of 1.3 million people are cut short due to road accidents. In India itself, around 150,000 people lose their lives on roads every year. While India accounts for about 1 percent of motor vehicles globally, it records more than 11 percent of road traffic deaths.

In the past few years, countries like Sweden, Australia and the United Kingdom have improved their road safety outcomes through effective central legislation. India too enacted the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 2019. It was the result of a five-year effort to improve national legislation on road safety. The enactment of the new legislation is a positive step; however, even after two years, the situation on the ground has not improved much.

While implementation of the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act 2019 needs to be done on a priority basis, this article highlights three additional steps to be undertaken to improve road safety in our country.

Adopting the safe system approach

Traditionally, road safety interventions have revolved around modifying human behaviour to prevent road crashes. However, the safe system approach hinges on the principle that human beings will make mistakes, and the risk of these mistakes should not result in a fatality or a serious injury.

Today, city agencies are more concerned with moving motor vehicles as quickly as possible, even at the cost of risking the lives of pedestrians and cyclists. About 90 percentof the pedestrian deaths recorded in Gurugram in 2020 occurred on national highways, state highways or expressways, all high-speed corridors.

It is essential that speed along these corridors, especially at the intersection, needs to be brought down to a safe limit, which can be accomplished with a good design. However, any efforts to increase speed will only lead to an increase in traffic crashes, especially those involving vulnerable road users.

 Importance of ‘safer’ infrastructure

Traditionally, the 5Es of road safety involves — Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation, and Engineering. Most often, education is the first E, and the last E is engineering.

Yes, road safety education is essential, but empirical studies from around the world have shown that ‘education’ alone does not improve road safety. What is needed is safe infrastructure and safe vehicles, in addition to road users, who follow safety rules.

However, ‘road safety’ dialogues in India still do not highlight the importance of safer roads.

The starting point of creating safer roads is by collecting data on road traffic crashes and geocoding the location of these crashes. The analysis of this data will help identify high-risk roads and sites, also called “blackspots” and improving the infrastructure of these locations will improve overall safety. Also, road safety audits and inspection of existing and new roads will ensure a gradual decrease in “blackspots”.

Managing speeds

Managing speed to improve safety does not come naturally to us. That is because we have still not understood the impact of speed, especially in areas where highways and other high-speed corridors interact with pedestrians and slow-moving traffic.

For example, if a pedestrian is hit by a car at 30 kmph, their chance of survival is 90 percent. However, if the same collision occurs at 50 kmph, which is the legal speed limit, the likelihood is only 15 percent.

India is a signatory to the Stockholm Declaration of 2020. The biggest and the boldest recommendation from the Stockholm Declaration is on speed. The declaration asks members to mandate a maximum travel speed of 30 km/h in areas where non-motorised road users and motor vehicles mix frequently. It means that the streets inside the city need to be designed and enforced for a maximum speed of 30 km/h or less. Reducing speed, in general, also has a positive impact on air quality and climate change and reduces road traffic deaths and injuries.

Road traffic crashes are an epidemic in India. It is not only a public health issue but an economic one. The country loses $58 billion, or 3 percent of its GDP, every year due to road traffic crashes. The COVID-19 crisis did halt the mobility, but things are improving, and the country is moving towards a post-Covid scenario.

Therefore, it needs to build back better, which would be impossible without addressing the critical issue of road safety. After all, the benefits of improving road safety go far beyond increasing the overall quality of life for India’s citizens and will undoubtedly save many lives.

The writer is Executive Director (Transport), WRI India. Views expressed are personal.

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