Metro matters: The madness must stop on Delhi’s killer roads
One in every 10 road deaths occurs in India, where 17 persons were killed in collisions every hour in 2015. Among the metros, Delhi tops the chart, having reported 1,548 casualties last year.columns Updated: Mar 06, 2017 16:47 IST
If traffic fatalities were a disease, India would be in the deathly grip of a raging epidemic. One in every 10 road deaths occurs in India, where 17 persons were killed in collisions every hour in 2015. Among the metros, Delhi tops the chart, having reported 1,548 casualties last year. Except that a vehicle or two is involved in every fatality, little information is available about what caused most of these crashes.
So the Union road ministry launched an accident recording protocol on February 21. Now, the policeman who reaches the spot will not only have to pick basic facts about the location, injuries or fatalities, but will go into specifics such as the weather, visibility and road conditions, construction activities around the spot, types of traffic controls on the stretch and the nature of the neighbourhood where the crash occurred.
They will also have to check for potholes, steep gradients, the age of the vehicle, and use of helmets and seat belts by those involved in the crash. The ministry officials say the checklist will help in devising corrective measures that will go beyond simply putting the blame on the driver and the bigger vehicle.
The Institute of Road Traffic Education estimates that out of 1.4 million serious collisions occurring annually in India, hardly 0.4 million are recorded properly and investigated scientifically. Many of those involving pedestrians and cyclists just go under the radar.
That is because, in India, we don’t have collision experts in the police force. With no special training in collision investigation, they usually rely on testimonials from eyewitnesses, CCTV footage and the statement of the people involved. Understanding and identifying what constitute hazardous driving conditions is simply outside their expertise.
But the new accident recording system has to focus on more than filling up a form. If the state government is serious about addressing the causes of road fatalities, it should train police personnel in crash forensics, if not raise a dedicated wing to investigate traffic accidents.
Many metropolitan police forces, including the Los Angeles and New York police departments, have collision investigation wings. The LAPD, for example, has 100 police officers and supervisors in the Specialised Collision Investigation Detail. These officers are often called in to investigate complicated collision scenes throughout the entire metropolitan Los Angeles area. They handle as many as 1,000 cases every month.
The data thrown up by the new recording system could, hopefully, force a rethink in our city planning. Obsessed with speed, we still measure the success of a road network in terms of linkages and reduction in commuting time. Safety is rarely an issue. Surely, it should not take much to ensure that pedestrians have road-crossing facilities, pavements have ample walking space, and non-motorised vehicles have separate lanes. Fixing a broken signal or a central verge, patching up a road and lighting dark stretches should be a matter of routine maintenance.
At the same time, drivers have to be made accountable. In India, driving is rarely associated with the responsibility it involves. We are contemptuous of even the basic road rules such as changing lanes only after signalling, not driving too close to the vehicle ahead of us, honking only when necessary. Tailgating and driving ‘two abreast in a single lane’ are a Class 1 misdemeanour in many countries, leading to heavy fines, suspension of licences and even a jail term. Here, it is not even considered an offence.
Few are penalised here for driving offences considered “minor”. Or for jaywalking. Every act of such leniency contributes to the general sense of impunity responsible for so many hit-and-run cases. Parliament can’t dither and must clear the new Road Safety bill that mandates stricter laws and heavier penalties.
The authorities should also regulate who gets to get behind the wheel. Delhi’s transport department, for instance, has introduced compulsory training for commercial drivers before they are handed over badges to drive public vehicles.
But there is no such requirement for individuals seeking licences to drive private vehicles. In the NCR towns, procurement of licences, both commercial and private, is still a tout-run operation.
The Oxford English dictionary defines ‘accident’ as “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally”. But before resigning to fate, let’s ensure that our roads are safer, vehicles roadworthy and road users accountable. There will still be a lot in life to blame ours stars for.