Better infrastructure, stringent rules for licences and awareness will make Indian roads safer | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Better infrastructure, stringent rules for licences and awareness will make Indian roads safer

Road safety infrastructure and laws in India must be made stronger to ensure that all people who use roads, including car drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians can have a reasonable expectation of safety.

analysis Updated: Apr 14, 2017 15:20 IST
India accounts for less than 2% of global motor vehicles. Yet it contributes to over 10% of global road traffic deaths and around 1,50,000 people lose their lives every year due to road traffic crashes.
India accounts for less than 2% of global motor vehicles. Yet it contributes to over 10% of global road traffic deaths and around 1,50,000 people lose their lives every year due to road traffic crashes. (HT Photo)

Following decades of inertia, India finally witnessed some concrete action to ensure road safety when the Lok Sabha passed the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill 2016 recently.

India accounts for less than 2% of global motor vehicles. Yet it contributes to over 10% of global road traffic deaths and around 1,50,000 people lose their lives every year due to road traffic crashes. Road traffic crashes also have an economic impact; and studies show that India loses anywhere between 3% and 5% of its gross domestic product (GDP) due to road traffic incidents each year.

There are 3 cardinal principles to avoiding road traffic crashes that India should focus on.

The minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari has reportedly said that a third of all driving licences in India are bogus; and though there is no scientific data to back his claim, driver licencing is highly compromised in India. On one hand, driving licenses are obtained without going through proper scientific tests, and on the other, there are many drivers who have multiple licences; making enforcement a big challenge.

There is also a serious short coming in the way that licences are granted to the prospective drivers. For example, a motor vehicles inspector would only process about 20 applications per day if applicants are thoroughly evaluated. However, a quick review will reveal that around 100 applications are processed daily, thereby giving the officer less than five minutes to evaluate an applicant and, in many smaller towns, this number can go up to 150 or 200 per day.

Safety is mostly an afterthought when it comes to designing road infrastructure. The focus is always on ensuring that vehicles can move as fast as possible. It was found in the 2011 census, that documented travel patterns of Indians for the first time, found that for work-related commutes 23% Indians walk while 13% cycle. Motorised two-wheelers were used by 13%, cars were used by only 3% of people. This pattern was not just for rural areas, but also for metropolitan areas. A 2014 study by the Institute of Urban Transport for Delhi found that 41% percent trips in Delhi are on foot or bicycle, 36% trips are on buses and metro, 14% by two-wheelers and only 9% by cars.

However, road infrastructure is mostly designed for the 3% car users, with most roads lacking even proper usable footpaths or cycle tracks. The result is that 40% of people killed in traffic crashes are pedestrians. Infrastructure planners need put safety first while designing any road project. In addition to moving vehicles, the impact on other road users, especially on pedestrians and cyclists also needs to be analysed.

Studies from around the world show that speed is the biggest killer but the fascination for moving at high speed is one of the prime reasons behind increasing fatalities, especially in our cities and towns where highways meet habitation. The other big problem is that we design high speed roads and highways within the city, creating road safety conflicts for pedestrians, cyclists, and two wheelers. Even vehicle manufacturers advertise their products as though our roads are Formula-1 tracks, knowing fully well that the maximum allowed speed for our cities is 60 kmph.

City roads need to be designed like streets and not highways. All major roads should have adequate and unobstructed footpaths along with segregated cycle tracks. Emergency response and enforcement are also important for improving road safety.

Enough lives have been lost on Indian roads and it’s time to take road safety seriously. India has committed to reduce road traffic deaths for 50% by 2020 as part of the Brasilia declaration; but improvements will only happen if all stakeholders takes up road safety as a serious issue. Amending the Motor Vehicles Act is a good starting point but the real battle will start now.

Milind Soman is a model, actor and brand ambassador of India Vision ZeroAmit Bhatt is Director, Integrated Transport, WRI India

The views expressed are personal