lmost on a daily basis, newspapers shock us with stories of horrendous accidents on the roads. These accidents are a leading cause of deaths among the youth in India between 15 and 29 years of age, according to a report. In June, Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari released a report, “Roads Accidents in India — 2015”; the scenario looks rather grim. India is signatory to the Brasilia Declaration and is committed to reducing the number of road accidents and fatalities by 50% by 2020. It seems an ambitious goal, looking at the statistics summarised below.
As many as 1,374 road accidents take place every day, resulting in 400 deaths. This number translates to 57 accidents on an average every hour and resulting in the deaths of 17 persons. That should worry all the stakeholders that use and manage roads and highways in the country.
The total number of road accidents in 2015 was 5,01,423 as against 4,89,400 in 2014, representing an increase of 2.5%. The resulting number of deaths in 2015 was 1,46,133, as against 1,39,671, an increase of 4.6%.
Maximum accidents were recorded on non-highway roads at 47.6%. This was followed by accidents on National Highways (NH) at 28.4% and State Highways (SH) at 24.0%. However, NHs recorded the maximum number of fatalities at 51,204 or 35% of all road accident fatalities in 2015. This was an increase of 7.5% over 2014 that saw 47,649 fatalities.
The highest rate of road accidents was recorded to be between 15:00 and 18:00 hours and from 18:00 to 21:00 hours, accounting for a share of 17.5% (87,819) and 17.3 per cent (86,836) respectively in the total road accidents during 2015. The month of May recorded the highest number of accidents, while traffic junctions witnessed the maximum accidents.
Over-speeding leads to loss of control over the vehicle while the braking distance increases with increasing speed.
There have been many cases of drunken-driving. Alcohol slows down reflexes and increases reaction time. It hampers vision due to dizziness.
Overloading of vehicles, particularly trucks, makes them hard to manoeuvre, especially when they need to apply the brakes. Similarly, driving with protruding loads — for instance, steel rods protruding out of trucks — is also a common sight on Indian roads. This is illegal. These causes accounted for deaths in excess of 40,000 in 2015.
Distracted driving caused while talking over the cell phone, sending text messages, adjusting mirrors while driving, looking at banners and billboards, animals nearby or on the road, eating food, reading a book, applying makeup have claimed scores of lives.
Non-adherence to lane driving is another common factor. Driving slow on a fast lane results in the faster vehicles overtaking the slow mover from the other lane. This increases the chance of accidents. The situation is aggravated by unsafe lane changes. Some people remove side mirrors of motorcycles and scooters, believing it spoils the aesthetic appeal of the vehicle. Some car drivers keep the side mirrors closed. In such cases, the drivers don’t get a proper rear vision, which can result in accidents. Defunct tail lights and no use of indicators while changing lanes increases the chance of accidents, too.
Potholes, dug up parts of roads, accumulation of debris, a sudden appearance of road dividers and speed breakers without adequate signage also increase road accidents and hence must be taken care of by the administration.
Accidents can be prevented
Government must ensure teaching school children subjects on pedestrian etiquette. Also, it should introduce a course on road use culture and first aid in higher secondary standards.
Modern knowledge regarding para-medical care should be made widely available. Attending these sessions should be made mandatory for every driving license applicant.
The Regional Transport Offices (RTO) should completely digitise the issuance of driver’s licence. It must ensure that the license is given only to those who have taken the mandatory simulator test that checks driving ability in different conditions and the applicant’s understanding of road signage.
All offences must be digitally recorded and be visible online to law-enforcement agencies across States. Maintaining an online database with information on violators available in real-time will ensure quick action by the police and the message will warn potential traffic violators.
As for speed control, a maximum speed limit of 50 km/h on arterial roads must be enforced by road design and police monitoring. The limit could be 30 km/h in residential areas. Municipal corporations must regulate speed-breakers, dead-end streets and mini roundabouts.
City roads, roundabouts, traffic junctions should have adequate lighting. Free left turns must be banned at all signalised junctions so that pedestrians get adequate time to cross the streets. The conspicuousness of bicycles may be increased by fixing reflectors on all sides and wheels and painting them yellow, white or orange.
People in India visit places of worship, walking miles on roads. The governing body of these religious places should be bound by law to provide walking devotees with pedestrian reflectors.
Several other preventive measures can be suggested. The government is working on improving road safety and infrastructure, but, finally, it is every individual’s responsibility to follow the traffic rules and etiquette, whether the individual is in the driving seat or walking on the road.