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Home / Columns / The government must accord priority to road safety

The government must accord priority to road safety

The majority of Indians must spend more time walking on the road than travelling in buses and cars. It’s simply unavoidable. Which means two depressing conclusions follow. Each time we do so we literally risk our lives and the government doesn’t seem to give a damn. It’s as simple as that.

columns Updated: Oct 06, 2018, 20:29 IST
Metro workers dressed as Yamraj spreads awareness about road safety, Pune, September 6, 2018
Metro workers dressed as Yamraj spreads awareness about road safety, Pune, September 6, 2018(Sanket Wankhade/HT PHOTO)

To be honest, I don’t like crossing roads. I’m always apprehensive when I have to. Indeed, I try to do so only at zebra or pelican crossings. Even then, I make a point of looking to the left and right and, if I can, both ways again. And it goes without saying I never jaywalk.

Now, I’ve just discovered a series of facts from official government statistics that justify what some might call my cowardice. For a start, did you know more people die on the roads in India than anywhere else in the world? The figure is an average of 1.5 lakh a year. Of this, an astonishing 74,000 tend to be in the 15-25 year age group. It seems the younger you are, the greater the danger you face!

The Indian chapter of the International Road Federation maintains that only a dozen states account for more than 80% of the road fatalities. In fact, four are responsible for almost 40%. So we clearly know where the problem lies even if no one is doing anything about it.

Within the broader figures some of the specific details are particularly horrifying. In 2017, almost 10 people per day died of accidents related to potholes. That was a 50% increase over the year before. The total of such deaths in 2017 was 3,597. In comparison, 803 lives were lost due to terrorist activities including Maoist attacks. And that figure includes terrorists, security personnel and civilians.

You may not be surprised to learn that Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of pothole deaths but even relatively developed states like Haryana and Gujarat fare very poorly. In Delhi, in 2017, there were eight such deaths. Incidentally, there were none the previous year. So the situation is deteriorating.

The number of pedestrian deaths is a second distressing subset. Not surprisingly, they’re the most vulnerable road users. From 12,330 such fatalities in 2014 the figure reached 20,457 in 2017, a jump of almost 66%. This means 56 pedestrians died every day in road accidents last year.

If you add to this the number of two-wheeler users and cyclists who are killed daily — and, on an average, it’s 134 two-wheeler riders and 10 cyclists — you’ll discover that, along with pedestrians, these three categories accounted for more than half the road deaths in India last year.

So it’s not surprising that a lot of people I know feel unsafe walking along the road. In many cases, pavements that are meant for walkers have simply disappeared. They’ve either been encroached upon by parked vehicles and shops or cratered with dangerous potholes. Many are potential death traps.

Yet — and this is the bit often ignored — the majority of Indians must spend more time walking on the road than travelling in buses and cars. It’s simply unavoidable. Which means two depressing conclusions follow. Each time we do so we literally risk our lives and the government doesn’t seem to give a damn. It’s as simple as that.

Now it didn’t take a great deal of effort to dig out these facts. Newspapers seem to publish them pretty regularly. So even if the government refuses to pay attention to the findings of its own departments, it can’t but be unaware of the adverse publicity it faces. Yet is this a priority for any of our administrations, whether at the Centre or even one of our 29 states? In this case, to ask is to answer the question.

The views expressed are personal

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