A detailed analysis of why India ranks at the top of the international table of fatalities caused by road crashes, and the measures the Indian government has taken to address this dangerous issue.
Another report by the same Ministry titled “Road Accidents in India 2019” does a more detailed analysis of road accidents. It admits that India ranked first in road deaths across 199 countries reported in the World Road Statistics, 2018, followed by China and the US. Within the country, national highways shared 35.65 percent of all road deaths, state highways 25.46 percent, and other roads 38.89 percent. While the percentage share of road deaths on ‘other roads’ is the highest, what is significant is that national highways and state highways constitute only 5.04 percent of all roads, but account for 61.11 percent of all road deaths. In 2019, two-wheelers were involved in the highest percentage of road deaths—35 percent. Cars, taxis, vans, and light motor vehicles (LMVs) came next at 18.6 percent, followed by pedestrians at 13.9 percent, trucks and lorries at 10.7 percent, buses at 4.9 percent, and auto-rickshaws at 4 percent. The other categories comprised the remaining percentage, in which animal-drawn vehicles and hand carts figure prominently. Tragically, of those killed, 70 percent were in the 18-45 age group. The report also throws light on state-wise road accident deaths in 2019. Uttar Pradesh stood at the top with 22,665 deaths, followed by Maharashtra (12,788), Madhya Pradesh (11,249), and Karnataka (10,958), Rajasthan (10563), and Tamil Nadu (10,525), each accounting for more than 10,000 deaths. Deeply concerned by the high number of road accidents, the Government of India (GoI) constituted a committee in 2005 to make recommendations on the matter. The committee submitted its report in 2007, coming up with a draft National Road Safety Policy. In 2010, GoI approved a National Road Safety Policy (NRSP). It recognised that road accidents primarily impacted the young, poor, and vulnerable road users and had become a major health issue.
While the percentage share of road deaths on ‘other roads’ is the highest, what is significant is that national highways and state highways constitute only 5.04 percent of all roads, but account for 61.11 percent of all road deaths.
The NRSP committed the GoI to raise awareness about safety issues and extend assistance to states and local administrations regarding the crash investigation and data collection. It decided to review standards that govern road design and maintenance of vehicles. It also indicated that the driving license and training systems for non-motorised transport shall be strengthened. It seeks to educate citizens on good road safety practices through publicity campaigns. It will make enforcement more robust and improve patrolling and the efficiency of rescue operations. Hospitals alongside the National Highways and State Highways would be adequately equipped to provide trauma care and rehabilitation. Finally, GoI also announced the establishment of the National Road Safety Board and National Road Safety Fund. The first was to supervise matters related to road safety, and the second was to finance road activities by allocating a certain percentage of the cess on gasoline and diesel. The administrative apparatus was further strengthened by setting up District Road Safety Committees (DRSC) for each district in the country under Section 215 of the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988. The DRSC was to take a periodic review of road accidents in the district and collect data on road crashes, their causes, accident spots, and victim details. The DRSC was responsible for developing a district road safety plan,an emergency medical plan, and ensuring the availability of ambulances and linkages with hospitals. Despite the very elaborate administrative and review mechanism set up in the country, there has been no significant impact on road accidents and deaths. However, we ought to recognise that more roads have been built during the last decade, and the vehicular population has multiplied. In 2013-14, the country had around 91,000 km of national highways. In 2021-22, they went up to 140,995 km. Road quality generally has also improved, leading to greater mobility and speed. Similarly, as against 67 million registered motor vehicles in 2003, the total number shot up to 295,772 million in 2019. These cited factors have contributed to the escalation of road accidents.
Hospitals alongside the National Highways and State Highways would be adequately equipped to provide trauma care and rehabilitation.
A detailed analysis reveals that there are multiple causes of road crashes. These comprise human error, over-speeding, drunk driving, driving on the wrong side of the road, jumping a red light, talking on the mobile phone while driving, not wearing seat belts, driving without a licence, and other traffic rules violations. Accidents are also caused by deficits in road engineering that create accident spots and the sudden appearance of potholes. Over-aged vehicles and overloading also contribute to the high number of accidents. It is generally agreed that four elements are involved in preventing road crashes. They are education, enforcement, engineering and environment, and emergency care. Education involves creating awareness amongst the people regarding road safety and practices. Enforcement comprises the implementation of the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act 1988 and rules framed thereunder and press penal action wherever necessary. Engineering deals with proper road design, elimination of accident spots, appropriate signages, separation of local traffic from highway traffic, and traffic calming and safety management measures. Finally, environment and emergency care involve the provision of advanced life support ambulances and quick evacuation of the injured to hospitals and trauma care centres. While the country attempts to build new roads at an accelerated speed, an essential point that needs to be kept in view is that added mobility and quality roads do not automatically lead to road safety unless the road safety audit is carried out on the planning table itself. India is a densely populated country, and roads are used by a variety of vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians and animal-drawn carts. In the countryside, roads in several instances, bisect settlements or segregate farmlands from the settlements. In cities, many more activities happen on parts of roads, such as parking and hawking. If safety is considered an integral concern in road planning, more land must be acquired for roads that allow segregation of pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles from the lanes that have motor vehicles travelling at great speed. Additionally, the number of underpasses ought to sharply go up. This would allow local communities to circulate without accessing or crossing the road.
Accidents are also caused by deficits in road engineering that create accident spots and the sudden appearance of potholes. Over-aged vehicles and overloading also contribute to the high number of accidents.
Building these safety items into road planning would result in more cost or fewer kilometres of new roads. However, safety cannot come without a price. The additional safety instruments suggested are especially needed in the case of national and state highways. This is pointed out by the very high percentage of road deaths caused by them. Unlike the access-controlled expressways, national and state highways do not prohibit entry to any mode of transport. Hence, the suggested additional safety measures are even more critical.
If safety is considered an integral concern in road planning, more land must be acquired for roads that allow segregation of pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles from the lanes that have motor vehicles travelling at great speed.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer ResearchRead More +