Mudda Aapka: Road Traffic Accidents in India: Issues and Challenges

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Former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry was recently killed in a horrific and unfortunate road accident!

Context

  • Deaths by accidents on roads increased by almost 17 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020.
  • This indicates an INCREASE in the rate of deaths per 1,000 vehicles in India, according to the latest NCRB report.

Road Accidents in India

  • In 2021, 1.55 lakh people died in accidents on Indian roads, up from 1.33 lakh in 2020, when much of the year saw a nationwide lockdown.
  • Total road accidents reported was 4.03 lakh in 2021, up from 3.54 lakh the year before.
  • But the 2021 accident numbers were significantly lower than those in 2019, when 4.37 lakh mishaps had been recorded, killing 1.54 lakh people.
  • As in previous years, two-wheelers accounted for most deaths (44.5%). Buses accounted for 3% of deaths in accidents.
  • Speeding caused 87,000 deaths, accounting for over half of all deaths, while dangerous and careless driving was attributed as cause for 42,000 deaths, the report stated.

State-wise data

  • The maximum increase in number of traffic accident cases from 2020 to 2021 was reported in Tamil Nadu (from 46,443 to 57,090), followed by Madhya Pradesh (from 43,360 to 49,493), Uttar Pradesh (from 30,593 to 36,509), Maharashtra (from 24,908 to 30,086), and Kerala (from 27,998 to 33,051).
  • These traffic accidents resulted in injuries to 3,73,884 people and 1,73,860 deaths in 2021.
  • Uttar Pradesh (24,711 deaths) followed by Tamil Nadu (16,685 deaths) and Maharashtra (16,446 deaths) have reported the maximum fatalities in traffic accidents in the country.

Factors causing Road Accidents

  • A new analytical series on road safety worldwide, published by The Lancet, proposes that India and other countries could cut accident-related deaths by 25 to 40%.
  • This is based on evidence that preventive interventions produce good outcomes when applied to four well-known risk factors:
  1. High speed
  2. Driving under the influence of alcohol
  3. Not using proper helmets
  4. Not wearing seat-belts and not using child restraints

Issues highlighted in developing countries

  • The structural problems linked to unplanned motorisation and urbanisation remain.
  • In India, speedy highway construction takes place without reconciling fast and slow-moving traffic.
  • There is a rampant presence of ramshackle vehicles, wrong-side driving, absence of adequate traffic police forces etc.

Why are there so many road fatalities in India alone?

  • Weak enforcement of traffic laws: People hardly oblige to traffic rules and find easier to bribe policemen rather than paying hefty challans.
  • Speeding issue: More accidents on the highways have been attributed to higher vehicle speeds and higher volume of traffic on these roads.
  • Engineering bottlenecks: Issues such as gaps in the median on the national highways, untreated intersections, and missing crash barriers are some of the biggest engineering issues.
  • Behavioural issue: Driver violations such as wrong-side driving, wrong lane usage by heavy vehicles, and mass violation of traffic lights, intoxication are the biggest behavioural issues.
  • Lack of Golden hour treatment: Lack of rapid trauma care on highways leads to such high fatalities.

Various steps taken by India

  • India amended Motor Vehicles Act in 2019, but its implementation by State governments is not uniform or complete.
  • A National Road Safety Board was constituted under the Act, with advisory powers to reform safety.
  • The World Bank has approved a $250 million loan to support for India State Support Programme for Road Safety.

Issues with implementation

  • The focus of State governments, however, remains conventional, with an emphasis on user behaviour (drivers and other road users), education and uneven enforcement.
  • Low emphasis is placed on structural change such as raising engineering standards for roads, signages, signals, training for scientific accident investigation, raising policing skills and fixing responsibility on government departments for the design, creation and maintenance of road infrastructure.

What can be done to cut death and injury rates?

  • The ambitious amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act in 2019 (MV Act) have not yielded significant results.
  • Major interventions in India, first suggested by the Sundar Committee (2007) and ordered by the Supreme Court in Rajasekaran vs Union of India have not made a dent in the problem.

Key findings of Sundar Committee

  • The Sundar Committee pointed out that India lacked a technically competent investigation arm that could determine the cause of accidents.
  • There is little clarity on whether the States have formed such units to aid traffic investigation, or whether the insurance industry has pressed for these to accurately determine fault.
  • In the absence of scientific investigation, perceptions usually guide the fixing of liability.

Solutions provided by the Lancet

  • The Lancet calculated that 17% of road traffic injury-related deaths could be avoided if trauma care facilities improved.
  • This is significant as several accidents take place in rural areas on highways, and victims are taken to poorly-equipped district hospitals or medical college hospitals.
  • While positive user behaviour — slower travel, wearing of helmets, seat belts and so on — could save thousands of lives.
  • In the short term, slowing down traffic, particularly near habitations, segregating slower vehicles, enforcing seat belt and helmet use and cracking down on drunken drivers could produce measurable gains.

Imbibing road safety: Way forward

  • Road safety education
  • Better road design, maintenance and warning signage
  • Crackdown on driving under influence of alcohol and drugs
  • Strict enforcement of traffic rules
  • Encouraging better road behaviour
  • Ensuring road worthiness of a vehicle
  • Better first aid and paramedic care

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