The Day After, November 24, 2009

How to bell the belligerent drivers on road? The World Health Organization arraigns India of the highest number of road accident deaths than anywhere else in the world, including the more populous China in its global report on road safety. Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), Jaipur and Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi brought about an Indo-Swedish collaboration project with Lund University of Sweden. WHO report hints at road fatalities to become the world’s fifth biggest killer by 2030. The rich nations have been able to lower death rates as against a sharp rise in the third world. 90% of deaths on the world’s road are touted to occur in low and middle-income countries though they have just 48% of all registered vehicles. Incredulous enough, the city of Jaipur stands third in the number of road deaths in India, jolting CUTS to embark on this project there and generalize solutions to salvage the problem all over India.

The alacrity of the situation in India arises owing to at least 13 deaths every hour, reckoning the report of the National Crime Records Bureau. In 2007 alone 1.14 lakh fatalities occurred as against 89,455 road deaths in China in 2006. Between 2006 and 2007, a sharp 6.1% rise took place. Statewise, Andhra Pradesh has the highest rate of road accident deaths of 12% closely followed by Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, each contributing 11%. Also, contrary to the popular belief of trucks being the major killer on roads, NCRB reflects these to be the biggest victims of mishaps followed by two-wheeler riders. World over 120000 million people get killed every year. In India, Mumbai, Delhi and Kota witness 79%, 47% and 28% of the total pedestrian deaths in whole India.

One main problem is that road users are not offered any comfortable and safe crossing options and also most of the existing pedestrian crossings are not suited for pedestrian usage. Reduction of average vehicular speeds by 10% de facto results in a 35% reduction of fatalities for pedestrians. It has now been proven that the only way of reaching low speeds is to use physical measures such as humps, speed breakers, rumble-strips and roundabouts prove pragmatic. However, contrary to the popular belief, no amount of professing can assuage the problem. Since the 1930s countries like the UK and the US have paid heed to scientific traffic engineering. But sadly in India, both central and state government while laying forth roads and highways are lackadaisical over safety norms. Experts from Lund University, Sweden feel traffic needs to be calmed below 50 km/hr for India and world alike. Also, the areas prone to vehicle-pedestrian conflict should observe vehicular speed below 30 km/hr.

Extensive field studies were carried in Jaipur in accident prone sites and also case studies complemented with international experiences where pedestrian –vehicle conflicts are rampant. Conflicts were identified and prognosis was done to figure out what led to those situations. Such sites were video-recorded continuously for four days and thereafter analyzed by both Indian and Swedish team. Some measures that proved prudent in Europe can be well implemented in India as well though with local adaptation. The project has come up with a manual, first of its kind in India, which brings out the flaws in the design of Indian roads.

Dr Dinesh Mohan from IIT Delhi lambasts our notions about crawling traffic speed in Indian metros. ‘In several European countries the average speed of vehicles is 20 km/hr. They could not improve it in the last 100 years. In the last 20 years, even the US has not increased traffic speed in any of its cities’. Prof. Geetam Tewari from IIT Delhi shatters a myth, ‘No driving education has ever decreased accidents’. Dr P.S. Pasricha, former DGP Maharashtra makes candid confession –‘India is in bad shape. A lot number of accidents are not reported. 70% of pedestrian causalities are in urban area. Still, we do not have a department on road safety’ remains the travails of our time.

This news item can also be viewed at: