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Back to the basics: Delhi leads the way in road safety

The introduction of fully automated driving tests in three centres in the capital, which began in early March this year, ensures transparency. Owing to the scientific accuracy of automated tests and minimal human interference, it has the potential to change the way India learns to drive

analysis Updated: Jul 09, 2019 18:32 IST
Marika Gabriel
Marika Gabriel
Hindustan Times
In a move to fix the broken system, the Delhi government is attempting to stop road accidents even before they occur(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

On July 8, a bus travelling from New Delhi to Lucknow with 50 passengers veered off a highway in Agra, killing at least 29 people. The reason: reckless driving. Indian roads are some of the deadliest, killing about 150,000 and injuring nearly half a million people annually.

State governments have been battling the problem of road safety, with some success – by increasing patrolling at night, levying heavy fines on offenders, and spreading awareness. This is also a priority for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, evident from the latest amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act (MVA). Its provisions include increasing compensation for deaths in hit-and-run cases, stiffening penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or without a license, and reducing a driving license’s (DL) validity to 10 years.

Despite these efforts, the root of the problem has not been addressed: bad drivers and their inability to navigate Indian roads. This stems from the fact that the very prerequisites to drive – tests to procure a learner’s permit and subsequently a DL – are considered trivial in India. Rampant corruption in regional transport offices is an open secret. Procuring a DL in India doesn’t even require you to write a test or prove that you can, in fact, drive. Touts appear for the exams “on behalf of” drivers. Therefore, unsurprisingly, 80% of road accidents in India were caused by valid license holders in 2017 (according to the Union ministry of road transport and highways). A 2018 survey by a not-for-profit – SaveLife Foundation – found that 59% of people with valid DLs never even took a test.

In a move to fix the broken system, the Delhi government is going back to the basics. It is attempting to stop road accidents even before they occur. The introduction of fully automated driving tests in three centres in the capital, which began in early March this year, ensures transparency. Owing to the scientific accuracy of automated tests and minimal human interference, it has the potential to change the way India learns to drive. It already seems to be working. Since its implementation, 48.9% of the applicants have failed, compared to 16.2% before, as reported in this paper on July 8.

State governments, whose measures have so far been reactive, must look at this system as an opportunity to ensure bad drivers go back to the learning board. Reactionary measures have been the norm in road safety efforts. For instance, the Good Samaritan Act was enacted when it was realised that around 50% of accident victims died due to the lack of immediate care in what’s called the “golden hour”, urging bystanders to take road accident victims to hospitals. Similarly, on July 1, 2016, when nine-year-old Ramya was killed along with her uncle and grandfather in a drinking and driving accident in the heart of Hyderabad, it pushed the Telangana government to tighten its rules, increase police patrolling and diligently stop drinking and driving. Mumbai saw the creation of a “pedestrian safety cell” of citizens working in collaboration with the BMC and urban planners after government data proved that 51% of the victims of road accidents are pedestrians. This newspaper’s “right to walk” series also highlights the plight of pedestrians in the capital city.

Interestingly, the story of India’s bustling roads and heavy traffic doesn’t date too far back. Twenty years ago, India’s Golden Quadrilateral was still in the works, inter-state roads weren’t well developed, and within major cities, commuting wasn’t a daily struggle. But as our roads got better and our navigation easier – India has the world’s third largest road network – it didn’t go hand-in-glove with precautions needed to steer through progress of this scale. So, with increased connectivity and a growing number of vehicles came the problem of road accidents. In 2016, the number of vehicles was at 230 million (from 81.5 million a decade earlier) and road accidents in the period 2005-2017 saw a 50% increase. With technology at our disposal, we have the opportunity to fix this oversight and work towards road safety.

The Delhi government’s move is the first of many checks that drivers must face. Combined with other successful methods initiated by state governments, it is important to help piece together an incorruptible system for a safer India.

This system can help India halve road fatalities by 2020, as the Brasilia Declaration on Road Safety expects us to. Ensuring that every driver is a safe one, having honestly and successfully passed a driving test, is a basic precondition, not an option. After all, you don’t just put your own life on the line when you drive.

marika.gabriel@htdigital.in

First Published: Jul 09, 2019 18:31 IST