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Road Safety: Importance, challenges and solutions

Roads are the arteries through which the economy sustains. Roads link producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to school, and the sick to hospitals, hence are vital to any development agenda. However, roads can only contribute if they are safe for commuters and government’s main thrust of accident prevention and control has been on 4 E’s (i) Education; (ii) Enforcement; (iii) Engineering; (iv) Environment and Emergency care of road accident victims.

UN has announced 2011-2020 as the ‘Decade of Action for Road Safety’ with an aim to reduce fatalities by 50% by focusing on five pillarsroad safety management, safer roads and mobility, safer road users, post-crash response, and safer vehicles.

Road construction and award of road projects in India:

  • Road network in India, of about 56 lakh km in March 2016, is one of the largest in the world.
  • Highway construction rate in India has more than doubled in the last four years from 12 km/day in 2014 to average of 27 km/day.
  • Government is spending more than three times on road construction now than before.
  • India’s road density at 1.7 km/sq.km of area is higher than that of many developed countries though surfaced/paved road constituting 62.5% of the total road length is comparatively lower.

Increasing road accidents and road fatalities:

Exposure to adverse traffic environment is high in India because of unprecedented rate of motorization, growing unplanned urbanization and lack of effective traffic management. As a result, incidents of road accidents, traffic injuries and fatalities have remained unacceptably high in India.

  • Though incidence of road accidents have declined by 3.3% in 2017 as compared to 2016, still India has a staggering count of around 1.46 lakh road fatalities in 2017.
  • Road accident is the 1 cause of death among children and young adultsin the age groups of 5-29 years in India.
  • Around 1274 accidents and 405 deaths take place every day in road mishaps in India in which share of two-wheeler riders in total fatality has been highest (33%) in 2017.
  • Tamil Nadu has recorded highest number of road accident in 2017, but persons killed in road accident were highest in Uttar Pradesh.

State wise road accidents in India -2017

Causes of high incidence of road accidentsand fatalities in India:

  • Lower enforcement presence in high risk areas:
    • Over 50% accidents occurred in open and sparse areas and 73% at uncontrolled junctions.
    • 64% of accidents occurred on straight roads but signboards and warnings are usually found on steep and curved roads.

These facts highlight the effect of lower enforcement presence and inadequate traffic control mechanism in isolated areas.

  • Traffic rules violations: Over speeding and driving on wrong side together accounted for 76% of total accidents along with other violations like drunken driving, red light jumping and use of mobile phones.
  • Skewed road traffic engineering: Two-wheelers accounted for the highest share in total road accidents but have been neglected during road traffic engineering and planning as shown by lack of separate lanes for them and pedestrians.
  • Lack of emergency medical services: Administration and availability of first aid at accident site and transportation of victim from site to hospital is found wanting on majority of highways.
  • Inadequate surveillance:‘Hit and run’ cases go uninvestigated due to absence of surveillance infrastructure, 73% two-wheeler accident victims do not wear helmets and a significant proportion of four wheelers do not wear seatbelts or possess driving license.
  • Legislative lacunae:Old vehicles ply without regulation culminating into tyre bursts on high speed expressways.
  • Low quality infrastructure, standards and maintenance: In India, quality of road construction is low and road standards are not enforced by builders, which lead to development of potholes; also maintenance of roads is a corrective measure than preventive in India.
  • Vehicular load condition:Over-loaded vehicles directly and indirectly cause road mishaps. Overloaded vehicle is accident prone as it is difficult to control during an emergency and it also affects quality of roads, which further increase vulnerability of travelers to accidents.
  • Lack of quality driving schools:Drivers’ fault was responsible for 80% killings in road accidents in 2016, underscoring the need for improved enforcement and also for establishment of quality driving schools, driver testing centers and standardized driver license regulations by RTOs.
  • Lack of emergency health services availability:In 2017, 65% road fatalities took place in rural areas, suggesting inadequate trauma care facilities in rural areas.

Government policy initiatives for improvingRoad Safety:

  • The National Road Safety Policy looks at overall road safety, and outlines initiatives to be taken by the Government at all levels.
  • The government is committed to:
    • Raise Awareness about Road Safety Issues
    • Establish a Road Safety Information Database
    • Ensure Safer Road Infrastructure
    • Safer vehicles with built in features at the design stage
    • Road Traffic Safety Education and Training
    • Enforcement of Safety Laws
    • Emergency Medical Services for Road Accidents
  • Government has decided to establish a dedicated National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board (NRSTMB) to oversee the issues related to road safety and evolve effective strategies for implementation of the Road Safety Policy
  • Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed in Lok Sabha and pending at committee stage, seeks to address various issues, including road safety:
    • The Bill allows government to order for recall of motor vehicles if it may cause damage to environment, driver or other road users.
    • Good Samaritanwill not be liable for any civil or criminal action for any injury to or death of an accident victim.
    • Bill increases penalties for several offences under the Act like drunken driving
    • Cashless treatment for road accident victims during golden hour.
    • Compensation in case of death in hit and run accident, where no person can be held liable for the accident
    • However, the Bill does not provide for any road safety agencies or improving road design and engineering.

Other steps taken by government for Roads Sector:

  • Constitution of National Road Safety Council (NRSC)/ State Road Safety Councils and District Committees.
  • Measures and awareness campaign on road safety like telecasting/broadcasting of T.V. spots/Radio jingles, display of cinema slides, hoardings, organizing Road Safety Week.
  • High priority has been accorded to identification and rectification of black spots (accident prone spots) on national highways.
  • Comprehensive database of traffic accidents to develop targeted safety programmes.
  • Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) has been made mandatory for some classes of vehicles.
  • In order to ensure safe and smooth flow of traffic, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways has envisaged a plan for replacement of all the Level Crossing on National Highways under a scheme Setu Bhartam.
  • Setting up of model driving training institutes in States and refresher training to drivers of Heavy Motor Vehicle in the unorganized sector.
  • Road safety has been made an integral part of road design at planning stage.
  • Providing cranes and ambulances to various State Governments under the National Highway Accident Relief Service Scheme for development on National Highways.

Following steps would help in making Indian roads safer:

  • FollowingUN’sSafe Systems Approach (SSA): It is based on:
    • Inclusive approach: Cateringto all groups using the road system, including drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, cyclists, and commercial and heavy vehicle drivers.
    • A ‘forgiving’ road transport system: SSA acknowledges that there are limits to handle pain by human bodies and that people will make mistakes but road system should be safe enough in its design and operation so that collisions do not exceed the limits of human tolerance.
  • Objective deployment of resources:Considering limited resources available with traffic departments the deployment of resources should be objective, need and trends basedand done after scientific investigation of road accidents:
    • 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM period recorded maximum number of road accidentsthus demanding more focused attention.
    • National Highways (NH) constitute 1.8% and State Highways (SH) 3.1% of total road length in the country, but 30% accidents took place on NHs and 25% on SHs necessitating better highway management.
  • Dedicated corridors for vulnerable sections:High risk and vulnerable sections like motorists and pedestrians should be provided dedicated corridors.
  • Improving public transport:Efficient, seamless and integrated multi-mode public transport system is safe and environment friendly transport.
  • Use of technology for better surveillance:Deployment of adequate speed detection cameras and drones on junctions.
  • Road Safety and Traffic Management Boards: Sundar Committee on Road Safety (2007) found that responsibility for road safety is diffused across various bodies with no effectivecoordination and called for establishments of Road Safety and traffic management Boards at state and national level to look after capacity building and coordination in the sector.
  • Road safety audits and engineering:
    • Regular road safety audits should be conducted by government and trainings should be conducted for building capacity of road auditors and engineers.
    • Road engineering and policies should follow Avoid-Shift-Improve (ASI) framework i.e. avoiding growth in vehicle kilometers travelled; shift trips to safer, sustainable modes, like public transport and non-motorized transport; and improving general condition of transport in terms of safety, time, cost, comfort.
  • Good Samaritan Law: Only few states like Delhi have effective GoodSamaritan law and even in states where it is present, awareness among people is low. People should be made aware about the guidelines through print and mass media to reduce fatalities.
  • Better safety features in vehicles: Better safety features in vehicles like traction control systems, airbags and collision warning systems, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS).
  • Supreme Court recently asked state and central governments to:
    • Fix accountability of officials and contractors: The officials certifying road projects and contractors building sub-standard projects should be held accountable with imposition of fines and punishments for their laxity.
    • Compensation to road accident victims: Recently SC asked state and central governments to provide compensation to road accident victims caused due to state negligence.
    • Road safety committee in all districts:Setting up of such committees, comprising SP and officials from health, PWD, NHAI and civil society in every district,to take corrective measuresand establishing trauma centers in all districts for quick care to victims.
Best practices:
Sweden’s Road Safety Vision:Targeted approach and war-footed steps to achieve ‘Vision Zero’ i.ebringing road fatalities to zero, brought down fatalities to five or six annually.
Luxembourg made considerable reduction in road accidents by putting greater emphasis on public transport (MRTS,RRTS), non-motorized transport and transit-oriented development.

 

As a signatory to the Brasilia Convention, the government intends to reduce traffic fatalities by 50% by 2020. A combined and congruent action by state and citizens can go a long way in reducing road related tragedies and loss of life.

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