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Blame the man: Human error behind 70% of road accidents, says govt data

businesspaper Updated: Jul 06, 2016, 05:58 IST

NEW DELHI: The place: somewhere in Rajasthan. Time: last Saturday, late evening. A BMW sedan was travelling at 100kph. At the wheel was the son of an MLA, allegedly drunk. Too late, he saw looming ahead, an auto-rickshaw and a police van.

When the air cleared, bystanders saw that the occupants of the BMW had escaped with minor injuries, thanks to the airbags. At the other end, they were not so lucky: three dead, seven wounded.

A common enough occurrence, you might say. And the takeaway is straightforward — the people in the cars escape, and those in less safe vehicles such as autos or two-wheelers — die.

But the subtext is equally important. The accident was the direct consequence of driver negligence. In this case, criminal negligence, as the alcohol in his blood was tested at three times over the permissible limit. The victims were not the dangerous drivers. And Indian government data says 70% of road accidents occur due to driver error.

According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Health Report on Road Safety 2015, India scores a miserable 3 (on a scale of 10) in enforcement of the speed laws, against 9 in France, 8 in China, and 7 in Brazil and Japan. The ratings for enforcing drunk-driving laws are almost similar: France and Brazil score 8, China and Japan 9 each — and India, 4.

“Only 48 countries rate their enforcement of drink–driving laws as ‘good’,” the report says. “Only 34, representing 2.1 billion people, have drink–driving laws in line with best practice.”

The government has been forcing auto makers to make cars safer, which they are — optionally, by providing driver airbag and leaving it to the customers’ discretion. On the other hand, the more expensive cars are fully loaded with ABS, airbags and alarm systems that seem to actually encourage rash driving.

Also, the largest chunk of on-road deaths is of two- and three-wheeler riders (34%). Helmets may be the only life-saving gear here, and India scores a 4 in helmet law enforcement; France (98% compliance) and Japan score 9 each, China (20% compliance) and Brazil (81% compliance) take a 6 each.

The May 17 report from the Global NCAP car crash tests worried stakeholders in the auto industry. But after that, another car launched without an airbag and it was business as usual.

Major automakers point out how Indian car-buyer has a different attitude while purchasing cars. “We can only push car safety up to a point. But Indian customer cares more about mileage ,” said one auto maker.

Maruti Suzuki’s Puneet Dhawan says, “How can you make (read force) someone wear a seat belt or drive a car safely?”

We did get serious about safety on roads, once in 2014 when the government sprang into action to draft the Road Safety Bill 2014 after former union minister Gopinath Munde was killed in a road accident.

Nitin Gadkari, the union minister of roads, transport and highways, said accidents cause a loss of around 3% to GDP. The government is making roads at a frenetic 20km a day, up from 15 km a day in 2012, and is targeting 30km daily by this year-end.

The Road Safety Bill 2014, which proposes hefty fines of up to ₹3 lakh and jail for 7 years for causing death in road accidents, continues to gather dust.

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