India continues to grapple with the problem of Road Safety with the highest number of fatalities in the world, about 1.6 lakh every year.
Back in 2015, as part of the UN decade of action for Road Safety, we had pledged for reducing the number of road deaths by the year 2020. However, all these years we continued to do piece meal efforts on removal of black / grey spots; school education, Trauma care training in isolation.
Even after years of dealing with road deaths, injuries, and accidents, we still do not have any data regarding analysis of detailed causes of accidents/fatalities.
Whatever data is available, unfortunately we chose to ignore it. The tough part of simple Enforcement of the existing regulation, does not seem to be in the action plan or focus. The result: target to reduce road fatalities continues to be a mirage.
MoRTH data of 2020 shows that, more than 64% of road fatalities happen with the Vulnerable Road Users (VRUs = Pedestrians + Bicyclists + 2-Wheelers). The same data also shows that the VRU’s share in the fatalities has been on a constant rise over the past 5 years. VRU’s share in road fatalities has moved from 47% in 2016 to 49% in 2017, 55% in 2018 and 57% in 2019.
On the contrary, car occupant fatalities have constantly declined, from 18% in 2016 to 13.6% in 2020. In fact, in Delhi India’s the high vehicle density capital, VRU fatalities account for a whopping 89%, while fatalities of car inmates are about 5%. Contrastingly, while cars have been mandated with 10 different safety regulations in last two years, we hardly have any strong regulatory measure focused to reduce VRU fatalities
Thanks to Government efforts, India today stands at par with Europe for most crash regulations, but lacks significantly on Enforcement when compared to the World
As per WHO report of 2018, India ranks 3 to 4 (on a scale of 10) on most of the Enforcement parameters like Helmets, Seat belts, Drunken Driving, Over Speeding. This contrasts with a much higher score of 9 to 10 for Enforcement most of the developed world. Ironically, we benchmark the same countries when we draft the regulations for road safety but ignore them for benchmarking on Enforcement.
Hence, it is no surprise that nearly a decade after our pledge, the road fatalities in India continue to rise. Last year it rose to about 1.65 lakh deaths.
Let us also at another critical data point to assess causes of fatalities. According to MoRTH data, in 70% of the 2-wheeler accident deaths, victims were found NOT wearing helmets; and in 87% of the car accident deaths, victims were found NOT wearing seat belts.
The recent move by Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to make Six airbags mandatory in every car as improved safety measure has its own shortcomings as recent example of Late Mr Cyrus Mistry also indicates the same. The car had 7 airbags, still could not save the life as seat belt was not worn
In a crash seat belt are primary restraint devices whereas Airbags are Supplemental support. Rather Several global studies have shown that if an airbag deploys without having the seat belt on, it can cause severe injuries and even death.
Sadly, the data in India shows, more than 70% of the car occupants do not use seat belts in front and 96% do not wear seat belts on the backseat
Another big problem is that we the People of India have our own unique ways and JUGAAD for bypassing the law. No matter what devices or sensors or alarms like seat belt reminders are mandated, the un-informed user tends to find his own easy means to bypass the law and ignore safety.
It is high time that we move away from the populist ideology of mandating regulations, safety devices like Six Airbags, but bite the bitter pill of Enforcement and Penalties that may affect masses. Of course, harsh measures will face resistance and give discomfort initially, but eventually they will become a habit.
There is nothing more important than human life.
The medicine, however strong, however potent, must attack the root cause. It is time to act now to address this vital problem.