Can latest speed curbs make roads safer for two-wheelers?
A friendly motorcycle race among a group of youngsters on the Yamuna Expressway on June 25 turned fatal for Mehrauli’s Rahul Teotia, 28, when his motorbike collided with another. His friend, Yash Kumar, 30, who was riding pillion, was severely injured.
This was not an isolated incident. Fatal two-wheeler crashes are common in the Capital, and the victims are often young stunt bikers. The law has so far proved inadequate to curb this menace despite several initiatives in the past, including meetings with youngsters from schools and colleges to discuss safe driving practices, community awareness programmes among residents’ welfare associations, and engagement programmes at traffic junctions.
Now that the Capital’s traffic police has brought two-wheelers under the ambit of speed restrictions through an order effective from June 11, it plugs a law-enforcement gap through which cases of speed violations involving two-wheelers fell through in courts.
All two-wheelers on city roads are now meant to adhere to a speed limit of 50km/hr. On high-speed corridors and expressways, where the speed limit for four-wheelers has been set at 70km/hr, two-wheelers have a limit of 60km/hr.
Traffic police officials say that, previously, two-wheeler speed violations were recorded based on the limits set for four-wheelers (which is 50km/hr in most parts of the city). Most riders used to get away without paying fines for violations as road signs didn’t indicate speed limits for two-wheelers, and they could feign ignorance about the restrictions in court.
“Technically, the speed limits for two-wheelers were not notified. The signage in the city also does not specify the speed limits for two-wheelers, so an easy escape for owners was to say that they were not aware,” said a senior traffic official on condition of anonymity.
Delhi government data showed that of over 10 million vehicles registered in the city till March 2020, 7.3 million were two-wheelers. Delhi traffic police estimates also show that of the total road accident fatalities, two-wheeler riders form the biggest group at 45%, followed closely by pedestrians (24%) and cyclists (20%).
Traffic police data shows that, in 2020, 4,178 accidents were reported in Delhi of which 1,163 were fatal. Another report by the department stated that last year, nearly 30-40% of road accident deaths and injuries involved two-wheeler riders or those riding pillion. In a 2019 study conducted by the traffic police, the share of two-wheeler victims in road accident cases was between 32% and 42%. It also highlighted that while private cars were involved in the highest share of fatal road accidents at 33.10%, two-wheelers were involved in 24.47% of the crashes.
A deeper dive into the numbers shows that, in 2019, 496 two-wheeler riders lost their lives in road accidents, while 2,110 were injured. This number was only marginally lower than the 570 deaths and 2,542 injuries recorded in 2018, and 557 deaths and 2,680 injuries in 2017.
Often, it is not just the two-wheeler riders that have to pay the price for rash and dangerous driving.
Usha Devi’s (52) world turned upside down in 2015 when a speeding motorcycle hit her as she was waiting to cross the road near Zakhira crossing in west Delhi. The accident left her bedridden for 18 months, with fractures to her leg, hip, and spine.
“I have metal rods in my leg, and I still cannot walk without support or stand for more than 30 minutes. I had to quit my job as a supervisor at a factory after the accident, and it was only a year ago that my daughter got a job and we have settled. The accident changed my life forever...,” Devi said.
Police and road safety experts say that the fatality risk is higher among two-wheeler riders due to their tendency to speed and the low protection the vehicle provides. Traffic police officials say two-wheeler riders in the 19-27 age group speed the most and also form the largest share of fatalities.
“With the speed limits now notified under law, enforcement teams will be better equipped to catch violators,” a senior traffic police officer said on condition of anonymity, adding that the general public will also feel more confident now about reporting speeding motorcyclists.
Call for more signage
Sewa Ram, professor of transport planning at the School of Planning and Architecture, who was part of the speed review committee that helped decide the revised speed limits, said that the traffic police and the road-owning agencies in the Capital must now ensure that speed signage is revised to include the limits for two-wheelers.
“Revising it will ensure that commuters know that they will be prosecuted if they flout the limit and also create better awareness,” Ram said.
Other experts said that while Delhi is “better off” compared to other Indian cities in terms of the availability and placement of road signage, cities such as Hyderabad and Chennai have recently collaborated with traffic experts and organisations to install new signage with accurate and inclusive information.
Since 2017, the Chennai traffic department along with the road-owning agencies there have been working towards installing inclusive signage for two-wheelers, cyclists and pedestrians at strategic locations.
Amit Bhatt, director (integrated urban transport) at the World Resources Institute (India), who was also part of the speed review committee, said, “While it is not possible to pictorially depict all categories of vehicles, it is important that the three important categories be represented — two-wheelers, four-wheelers and large commercial vehicles... [It] is still in the works.”