Road Safety as a crucial emerging challenge is gaining momentum with the entry of several automobile giants in the huge Indian market facilitated by the rapid growth of the domestic economy. Connectivity is an important factor for which one needs well developed transport network. Unless the roads are sufficiently wide with proper drainage, support and enforcement system, growth of this sector will always come with a price, i.e. frequent instances of accidents, injuries and deaths. Thanks to loans on easy terms and avid desire on the part of young men and young couples to own an automobile, exponential growth in the vehicle population is being seen. Same, however, does not match with the required length and width of the road or for that matter, earmarked halting and parking places. To add to the mess, there is no thinking even in the metros to provide dedicated lanes for the cyclists and the pedestrians. Majority of the vehicle owners, neither wish to pay for parking nor they have an intent to respect traffic rules. Motor vehicle licences are also issued fairly liberally without the applicant having bare knowledge of the theoretical or practical sides of driving. To add insult to injury, courts order release of accident vehicles and errant drivers rather easily.
Pre-requisite & Pillars of Road Safety
All the three essential “E’s”, i.e. engine, engineering and enforcement, perhaps, could be blamed for the present dismal scenario. There is scant regard for the five pillars of road safety, namely, road safety management, safe road infrastructure, safer vehicles, better behavior on the part of road users and improvement in post-accident response & services. In hilly terrains, better road upkeep assumes more importance as reliance on it is total for undertaking and sustaining various development initiatives. Many countries by the virtue of negativities, have been in a position to bring down the number of accidents and some of them have successfully carried out de-congestion initiatives by amending and enforcing the existing laws. If they can do it, why not we, especially at a time when the U.N. has declared the decade of 2010-2020 as the ‘Decade of action for the road safety’ ?
Physical Space Not the Sole Parameter
The road space can not and should not be the sole parameter. Basic civic sense, habits and behavior patterns imbibed from a cultural pattern also matter a great deal. Other than Delhi, most of the metros or the emerging metros do lag behind in this regard. While in Delhi, 21 %of the space is available for roads, it is definitely inadequate in Kolkata (12%),Mumbai (10%) and Hyderabad (9%) vis a vis their large population. Even then, Delhi reports more road rage, accidents, injuries and deaths. In addition, Mumbai and Bangalore, on account of their obvious and attractive commercial and educational opportunities have already gone much beyond their carrying capacities. Moreover, these cities being linear, can not be expanded further.
If we attempt to find out the reasons of unpleasant and unwanted happenings on the road, speed, bad state of roads, continued use of defective vehicles, drunken & rash driving, fatigue and carelessness or no use of helmets and seatbelts immediately come to notice. One fatal accident occurs every 3.7 minutes in our vast country and trucks and two wheelers alone contribute to 40% of these accidents. Several sets of measures ranging from those aimed at individuals to engineering to enforcement to upgraded surveillance have been adopted and emphasized time and again but unfortunately the numbers keep on multiplying.
Dismal National Scenario
A look at the national scenario would reveal that India’s vehicle population is growing at present at the rate of 15% every year. Same logically has a bearing on the persons getting temporarily injured, permanently disabled and dying altogether. On an average,1,42,000 persons are crushed to death in the road accidents and nearly 5,60,000 are reported injured, majority of them being in the age group of 15 to 45 years. Setback to such a productive age group is a great loss to nation. According to UN projections if road safety measures do not lead to minimizing the risk factor, road accidents would become third most prominent reason for death by 2020 after heart attack and depression.
Pain & Agony
Some injuries are so severe that the family has to suffer for no fault of theirs for several years, apart from unimaginable pain and agony on the part of the person concerned. The suffering is better felt rather than measured or assessed in monetary terms. Who cares, where is the monitoring mechanism, often asks the victim in the dingy clusters of economically weaker sections. In absence of dedicated accident courts, normal courts take a long time in deciding the cases and at the end of it, high and mighty get away easily. All of us have heard of the BMW case of Delhi and two cases of Mumbai, in which workers sleeping on pavement were either crushed to death or grievous injuries were inflicted on them. One popular Film Star has not been convicted even after a decade or so despite solid evidence available against him. This is happening at a time when both Judiciary and the Media are very active and vigilant and the RTI ensures better and easier access to information to the common man.
An analysis of the accident statistics would show that the figures collected are not always reliable as many deaths or injuries remain unreported in the rural and sub-urban areas or the small cities. According to one study, under reporting in India can be to the extent of 100%. Railway has about 1,25,00 unmanned crossings all over the country and this alone could be a major contributor to the accidents. Poor quality of roads, non use of helmets & seat-belts and lack of adequate awareness about safety issues generally result into high rate of accidents in the remote areas. Protection ensured to chest, heart, lungs and all the vital organs in stomach region by the seat belts is still unknown even in large cities. Further, according to some experts, due to mushroomed growth of private clinics and hospitals as also growing culture of making claims, accident victims from the lower strata of society are invariably compelled to bear heavy expenditure, for no fault of theirs.
Post Accident Situation
Coming to post accident scene, it may not be known to many of us that the first hour after the accident is very crucial for saving the life or for reducing the impact of the injury. One out of six persons are reported dead on the way either due to congestion on the road or the long distance to the health facility. All requisite steps, therefore, have to be taken by all the stakeholders and enforcement authorities. Proper handling of injured persons by the trained Policemen, voluntary agency personnel etc. has to be ensured before specialized treatment begins in a Trauma Centre or hospital. Panic, which may be natural, should be avoided.
Apart from having a comprehensive legislation for ensuring or improving road safety and restrictions on use of or higher taxes on older cars, there has to be adequate awareness on the part of every citizen for which he/she has to be suitably sensitized at the school and college levels. Drastic reduction in the use of crackers over the years goes on to prove the efficacy of the message conveyed through the school children. In Sikkim context, wherein the number of registered vehicles has doubled in just 8 years and the number of deaths and injuries(72 and 399 respectively in 231 accidents in 2013) in road accidents has also risen sharply, one can and one must create awareness about road safety through NGOs, Self Help Groups and Punchayats also, in view of their being pro-active and vibrant.
Minimum safety standards for the vehicles, roads and road users will have to be prescribed, apart from improvement in the city and highway traffic management system through CCTV or ITS, as the case may be. In Sikkim situation, one can think of creating more No Traffic Zones on the lines of similar ones in Gangtok, Namchi and Jorethang. Many European cities have gained immensely from such an experiment due to its positive impact on the incidence of accidents and overall pollution level. Side by side, there is also a need to come down heavily on rash drivers and other traffic offenders besides raising the amount of fines and penalties. Resorting to punching of licence in the event of proving of a traffic offence could also make a beginning in India.
Accidents have been drastically reduced in a vast and populous country like China in a matter of just five years, (between 2005 and 2010). Can’t we follow the suit in India or in the smaller and manageable setting of Sikkim?
To sum up, road is supposed to ensure and enhance connectivity. It should not become a medium to disconnect mankind from the world.