India’s killer roads
Ever wondered who claims the largest number of lives in India every year? The ‘roads’ we travel every day are the biggest cause of fatal tragedies in the country, even greater than war, terror attacks or Maoist violence. If the recent report released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is to believe, road accidents have emerged as a major public health problem globally, and more so in India where almost five lakh accidents occurred last year, killing over 1,46,000 people and leaving thrice the number injured. With one of the highest motorization growth rate in the world, accompanied by rapid expansion in road network and urbanization over the years, India is faced with serious impacts on road safety levels.
According to the report named Road Accidents in India 2015, compiled by the Transport Research Wing, the total number of road accidents increased by 2.5 per cent from 4,89,400 in 2014 to 5,01,423 in 2015. The total number of persons killed in road accidents increased by 4.6 per cent from 1,39,671 in 2014 to 1,46,133 in 2015. Road accident injuries have also increased by 1.4 per cent from 4,93,474 in 2014 to 5,00,279 in 2015. The severity of road accidents, measured in terms of number of persons killed per 100 accidents has increased from 28.5 in 2014 to 29.1 in 2015.
The analysis of road accident data 2015 reveals that about 1,374 accidents and 400 deaths take place every day on Indian roads which further translates into 57 accidents and loss of 17 lives on an average every hour in our country. It must be noted that over half of those killed—or over 78,900—were young lives aged between 15 and 34 years, young dreams and the demographic dividend crushed under cruel wheels.
Thirteen top states namely Tamil Nadu (69,059), Maharashtra (63,805), Madhya Pradesh (54,947), Karnataka (44,011), Kerala (39,014), Uttar Pradesh (32,385), Andhra Pradesh (24,258), Rajasthan (24,072), Gujarat (23,183), Telangana (21,252), Chhattisgarh (14,446),West Bengal (13,208) and Haryana (11,174) together accounted for 86.7 per cent of all road accidents in the country.
Around 83.6 per cent of all road accidents fatalities also occurred in the top thirteen states.These states are Uttar Pradesh (17,666), Tamil Nadu (15,642), Maharashtra (13,212), Karnataka (10,856), Rajasthan (10,510), Madhya Pradesh (9,314), Andhra Pradesh (8,297), Gujarat (8,119), Telangana (7,110), West Bengal (6,234), Bihar (5,421), Punjab (4,893) and Haryana (4,879), whereas 23,980 accidental deaths had taken place in other states/ UTs. In terms of absolute numbers, highest number of deaths had taken place in Uttar Pradesh.
The fifty million-plus cities accounted for a share of 22.1 per cent in total road accidents in the country, 11.3 per cent in total persons killed in road accidents and 16.4 per cent in total persons injured in road accidents. Mumbai had the highest number of road accidents (23,468) while Delhi had the highest number of deaths (1,622) due to road accidents. Accident severity in terms of percentage share of 50 million-plus cities was 14.9 per cent in 2015 as against 15.0 per cent in 2014.
As per the report, drivers’ fault has been revealed as the single most responsible factor for road accidents, accounted for 77.1 per cent of total road accidents during 2015 as against 78.8 per cent during 2014. Within the category of drivers’ fault, road accidents caused and persons killed due to exceeding lawful speed/over speeding by drivers accounted for a share of 62.2 per cent (2,40,463 out of 3,86,481 accidents) and 61.0 per cent (64,633 out of 1,06,021 deaths) respectively.
Besides, 10,727 people were killed in crashes caused by potholes, speed breakers and roads that were under repair or being constructed in 2015. Although the overall fatalities under these categories had come down marginally from 2014, the number of people killed due to potholes rose to 3,416, from 3,039 in the previous year. Deaths caused by potholes saw a massive seven-fold increase in Maharashtra in 2015, according to the report. Interestingly, Uttar Pradesh, known for its bad roads, reported an almost 50 per cent reduction in pothole deaths as compared with 2014. In Delhi, where a man was crushed to death by a tankerwhen his motorcycle got stuck in a rainwater-filled pothole recently, showed only two pothole deaths in 2015. More than 10,800 accidents were reported last year due to potholes across the country. A rise in such fatalities indicates failure of road-owning agencies to maintain stretches.
Sadly, these statistics might not even paint the true picture. The number could be higher as we do not have a robust and scientific mechanism for collecting data. Many accidents go unreported and there is no detailed investigation into causes of road deaths in the country. It has been proved by a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who suggests that the numbers could be much higher. In their study, the researchers analysed figures from Belgaum, Karnataka, and found that there is considerable underreporting of deaths caused by road accidents in India. Unfortunately, India, which is trying to position itself as a technological hub, lacks both a crash investigation system as well as a trauma registry, and has a primitive method of ascertaining the causes of road deaths. When an accident occurs, the document which is relied upon to ascertain the cause is the FIR, which is prepared by the police. Due to lack of proper training, the police are unable to capture the various human, infrastructural, and vehicular causes that play a vital role in each accident.
Although driving in India has always been dangerous, the roads are now becoming even deadlier. What must anger Indians is that the scenario has not changed for the past 15 years. Between 2000 and 2015, governments have registered 1,649,770 accidents and 1,039,372 fatalities. And over 50 lakh persons were injured, many handicapped and traumatised for life. Likewise, between 2005 and 2015, the total number of accidents have increased by 14.2 per cent, killings by 53.9 per cent and injuries by 7.5 per cent. With these figures, one can understand the scale of the crisis. Above all, the tragedy is about lives lost, about families disrupted, about careers broken up and about aspirations debilitated.
According to Shankkar Aiyar, the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change, “The approach of successive governments has been to dive into alibi alley. In August 2000, the Government of India was asked what is causing the rise in accidents. The reply was‘lack of traffic discipline on the part of drivers and road users, phenomenal increase in the number of motor vehicles with no corresponding increase in road capacity, mixed traffic conditions, over-speeding, overloading, drunken driving, mechanical defect in vehicles, etc.’ The answer in 2014 read,‘road accidents are caused due to the complex interaction of a number of factors. These include driver’s fault, mechanical defects in the vehicles, fault of pedestrians, bad road, bad weather, increase in vehicular population, increase in population, heterogeneous traffic etc. It may not be possible to pinpoint any one reason for road accidents.”
There is anabundant of indicators that suggests the system is failing over and over again. “Over 77.1 per cent of total road accidents during 2015 were caused by drivers’ faults—quite obviously the licensing process is flawed. In a country where most cities can boast of less than 20km/per hour travel, speed is a major killer—64,633 out of 106,021 deaths in 2015 were caused by speeding—a reflection of poor policing and inadequate use of technology. Every second accident or about 49 per cent of the total mishaps of 2015 took place at junctions—without doubt populism and politics have led to flawed design, and poor facilitation has made pedestrians and travellers vulnerable,” Aiyar analysed in a leading newspaper. It’s high time the system must examine these indicators and look into pressing issues that come into play with the changing time, such as the irresponsibility of parents — every year, nearly 20,000 accidents are caused by drivers/riders who are minors.There is also the timing factor — bulk of the accidents happen between 3pm and 9pm, raising questions about lighting and traffic management in cities.
The primary gap lies in the current legislative framework that governs road safety in India. A nation that witnesses deaths daily due to holes on its roads needs to take some hard and urgent decisions. According to Saji Cherian, director, operations, Save LIFE Foundation, bringing in an effective law is the key. “The only way to end this epidemic is to ensure strengthening of the existing legislation so that it protects all classes of road users. We appreciate that the government is deliberating amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and we hope it will receive crossparty support in the Parliament.” Ranbir Talwar, Executive Director, Indian Head Injury Foundation also emphasises on the need for a stronger law. “India accounts for 10 per cent of global deaths due to road accidents. The existing Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, has been unable to address four of the five risk factors specified by the World Health Organisation,” he feels.
Nitin Gadkari, the Union Road and Transport Minister, recently reiterated India’s resolve and commitment as a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration, to reduce the number of road accidents and fatalities by 50 per cent by 2020. He dwelt at length on the various measures being taken in this direction, including steps like rectifying black spots, incorporating engineering solutions at the design stage, safety standards for automobiles, proper trauma care and generating public awareness. Hope it translates into reality as soon as possible and road safety becomes a national mantra.