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Indian roads are death traps

india Updated: Oct 26, 2012 21:15 IST
KK Kapila
KK Kapila
None
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Comedian Jaspal Bhatti's death in a road accident on Thursday has put the spotlight again on the critical need to address issues related to road safety. More people die in road accidents in India than in any other country. And yet, we do little to change things. Initial reports on the accident attributed it to his car hitting a tree, a trailer, a trolley, a truck and a cyclist. This is unsurprising because these are common reasons for highway mishaps in India. Later reports said Bhatti's car hit a tree because the driver may have swerved to avoid a vehicle or a cyclist.

After the accident, a police officer said that the car crash occurred at a blind turn and speculated that the driver probably did not see the turning or may have dozed off. But highways should not have blind turns. But it was there because our roads are poorly designed. Engineers and planners don't incorporate road safety features in road designs to cut costs. Safety audits of roads are seldom done. As a nation, we are terrible at providing signage on roads. And yet when accidents occur, nobody thinks of blaming those responsible for such slippages. It is always the driver's fault.

A cyclist on a highway in the middle of the night? Unavoidable under Indian conditions. But a lot can be done to make life easier (and safer) for cyclists as well as vehicle drivers. It must be made mandatory for manufacturers of bicycles to have reflector tapes on them so that they can be spotted in the dark. Manufacturers have been dragging their feet on adding this feature. The incremental cost of having such a tape would be minimal but could save lives.

According to the rules, it is mandatory for all light commercial vehicles, heavy vehicles and public service vehicles to have conspicuous retro reflector tapes, as per prescribed standards, on all sides. But manufacturers and owners often disregard this rule. This result in vehicles on highways crashing at night into buses or trucks parked dangerously in the middle of the carriageway due to breakdowns or other reasons. Finally, road accidents at night happen because drivers are drunk or tired. These can be curbed by a social campaign against drinking and driving. There must also be a campaign against driving without adequate rest.

Comedian Jaspal Bhatti's death in a road accident on Thursday has put the spotlight again on the critical need to address issues related to road safety. More people die in road accidents in India than in any other country. And yet, we do little to change things. Initial reports on the accident attributed it to his car hitting a tree, a trailer, a trolley, a truck and a cyclist. This is unsurprising because these are common reasons for highway mishaps in India. Later reports said Bhatti's car hit a tree because the driver may have swerved to avoid a vehicle or a cyclist.

After the accident, a police officer said that the car crash occurred at a blind turn and speculated that the driver probably did not see the turning or may have dozed off. But highways should not have blind turns. But it was there because our roads are poorly designed. Engineers and planners don't incorporate road safety features in road designs to cut costs. Safety audits of roads are seldom done. As a nation, we are terrible at providing signage on roads. And yet when accidents occur, nobody thinks of blaming those responsible for such slippages. It is always the driver's fault.

A cyclist on a highway in the middle of the night? Unavoidable under Indian conditions. But a lot can be done to make life easier (and safer) for cyclists as well as vehicle drivers. It must be made mandatory for manufacturers of bicycles to have reflector tapes on them so that they can be spotted in the dark. Manufacturers have been dragging their feet on adding this feature. The incremental cost of having such a tape would be minimal but could save lives.

According to the rules, it is mandatory for all light commercial vehicles, heavy vehicles and public service vehicles to have conspicuous retro reflector tapes, as per prescribed standards, on all sides. But manufacturers and owners often disregard this rule. This result in vehicles on highways crashing at night into buses or trucks parked dangerously in the middle of the carriageway due to breakdowns or other reasons. Finally, road accidents at night happen because drivers are drunk or tired. These can be curbed by a social campaign against drinking and driving. There must also be a campaign against driving without adequate rest.

KK Kapila is Chairman of the Geneva-based International Road Federation

The views expressed by the author are personal