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How commuting in NCR is a gamble of our lives

The two deadly accidents in Delhi and Gurgaon last week brought the issue of road safety back in the headlines.

columns Updated: Apr 29, 2014 21:02 IST
Shivani Singh

The two deadly accidents in Delhi and Gurgaon last week brought the issue of road safety back in the headlines.

Last Monday, a doctor and his daughter were run over by a speeding Haryana Roadways bus while waiting outside their gated community for her school bus. The girl’s mother watched in horror as the public bus driver overtook a vehicle from the wrong side, knocked down a few electricity poles and mowed down her husband and her three-year-old.

Two days later, three women troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force were killed and 18 injured when their bus crashed into a speeding truck in Southwest Delhi’s Dwarka. One of the constables killed had lost her husband in a road accident 15 years ago. The eyewitnesses blamed a defunct traffic signal they had been complaining about to the authorities for weeks.

If road accidents were a disease, India suffers from an epidemic. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 1.39 lakh people were killed in road accidents in 2013. That is 16 deaths every hour. But unlike deadly vectors, road accidents are not difficult to curb. Surely, it was not difficult to get the Gurgaon bus driver to slow down. A timely fixing of the traffic signal at the Dwarka crossing would have saved three women.

A recent analysis of Delhi’s road accidents showed that more than 60% of them occurred due to the fault of the ‘other’ driver when the victim was a motorist. Cars and two-wheelers in general were to blame if the victims were pedestrians. Only in 3.7% cases were the victims themselves at fault. Bad road engineering was responsible for another 3% of accidents.

On an average, 800 speeding tickets are issued by the Delhi traffic police daily. But few are penalised for lane jumping, overtaking, driving without indicators or jumping the yellow line to enter the opposite carriageway. Even if the cops spot such “minor offences”, most of them prefer to look away.

But lack of enforcement is not the only problem. We need authorities to regulate who can get behind the wheel. We need to start from the basics and ensure that at least the fresh batch of drivers hitting city roads come with adequate training.

Delhi’s transport department has introduced compulsory training for commercial drivers before they are handed over badges to drive public vehicles. But there is no such rule when it comes to individuals seeking licences to drive private vehicles.

In the neighbouring NCR towns, procurement of licences, both commercial and private, is still a tout-run operation.

While much of road discipline will come from improving driving skills, we need to pay more attention on the way we plan our cities. Obsessed with speed, we still measure the success of a road network in terms of linkages and reduction of commuting time. Safety is rarely an issue.

It does not take much to ensure that there are adequate pedestrian crossings, pavements have ample walking space and non-motorised vehicles have separate lanes. Fixing a broken signal or a central verge, patching up a road and lighting dark stretches should be a matter of routine maintenance.

In large parts of new Gurg aon, touted as the Millennium City of India, authorities forgot to make separate lanes for non-motorised and small vehicles while building the road network. There are not enough footpaths. Lack of crossover facilities on the multilane Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway killed 16 pedestrians within months of its opening in 2008. Since then, more than 500 have died on this high-speed corridor, many of them pedestrians

The Oxford English dictionary defines ‘accident’ as “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally”.

Given that we care a hoot about our roads becoming deathtraps where disasters are waiting to happen, one wonders if the term ‘accidental’ applies to these deaths anymore.