In India, people don’t take road accidents seriously. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 136,834 people were killed in road accidents in 2010. The World Health Organization (WHO) says 243,000 were killed in 2013 and 39% of these casualties were pedestrians and cyclists mowed down by motor vehicles. For every death on Indian roads, two people are seriously injured. These accidents cost the nation around Rs 35,500 crore a year.
While the rapid growth of motor vehicles is usually blamed for these deaths and injuries, India has only 41 cars per 100,000 population as compared to 183 in China and 797 in the US. The problem is not with the number of vehicles but a severe shortage of road space and bad traffic management. According to WHO, India has 212 deaths per 100,000 vehicles, while Germany has 6.9 though it has got more cars on the road. This shows that the deaths by motorised vehicles drop dramatically with better traffic management.
Accidents happen due to various reasons: Distracted drivers, speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, driver fatigue, vehicle fitness, the condition of the roads and bad weather. Legislation has made crash tests, seat belts and safer vehicles mandatory but two-wheeler users still don’t take rules like wearing crash helmets seriously. According to reports, head injuries accounted for 26,616 two-wheeler deaths in 2010.
The driver licensing system is a joke. The prescribed fine for driving without a car licence under the obsolete Motor Vehicles Act is a nominal Rs 1,000. This should be changed; such an illegal act should attract heavier fines and a jail term. The regional transport offices must institute a proper test for learners before issuing them licences.
There is also an urgent need to strictly implement the laws but the traffic police are too few and often used for discharging other duties. For example, Punjab has 350 traffic policemen for Chandigarh and only 550 for the rest of the state. The highways should also have dedicated highway patrols like the Motorway Police in Pakistan where even VIPs are booked for traffic offences.
Murad Ali Baig is an automotive analyst
The views expressed by the author are personal