Why Road Accidents? Ways to Minimise – A few thoughts

Vijay K. Saluja

Senior Fellow,Institute of Social Sciences,New Delhi  www.issin.org
Ex Chief Engineer[civil], New Delhi Municipal Council

Not a single day, the newspapers of Delhi, where I live, have nothing, to report about accidents on roads! In the last three days, the Times of India-Delhi Edition, carried a `news` with the following captions

`Drunk doctor mows down two in Varanasi-TOI,15th Nov-2010
Lucky escape for women, kids-TOI,14th Nov,2010
VIP car rams into Shastri Bhavan ,two cops injured     
French national held after his car  killed one in Vasant Vihar [ vip area].
 Local dailies being published at various other metros—— Chennai,Kolkata,Mumbai,Bangalore et al have similar stories to report every day!
This is indicative of the horrendous & sad  situations which exist on our roads-network!?Sadder for those persons who get involved in the accidents! To give an idea about the horrendous situation
India overtook China in 2006 in road fatalities & has, since then continued to pull ahead
As per the figures available there were 118000 fatalities in 2008, while in China, there were 73500, despite auto boom! Comparison is being made with China as these two countries,India & China have similarities- the largest population  &  having auto-explosion, as well.!
A few Comments—-
Says a grieved parent ` there is total failure on the part of the govt, to curb accidents on roads`
Says another affected `govt is building economic growth on the dead bodies of the poor on these highways`
Says the minister `we are going to review the Motor Vehicle Act, constitute National Road Safety Board, besides taking many other needed /related measures in the areas of engg-planning,design, maintenance of roads,  strict enforcement of laws related to road safety measures, revisiting the procedure of issue of driving licenses besides improving driver training & education of the road users.
 Infact, in the last two days, TOI also carried about half page advts abt
`Use of zebra crossing` issued by Ministry of consumer Affairs,Govt of India
`Road Safety Tips-Dos & Do`nts`, issued by Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Govt of India.

International Institutions

International Road Federation [IRF]
IRF which was established in 1948  has been instrumental in advocacy of various matters relevant to the road industry which range from financing to technology, development to safety concerns & varied interests in this area of the world community.
Its India Chapter started in Feb 2009 has taken up the important task of creating a forum/platform for all public & private players engaged in the task of giant road development programmes in India.
Road safety is a matter of great concern for it & IRF[India] has taken a mission to arrest the human distress caused by road crashes & have taken up many initiatives to bring about 50 percent reduction in road fatalities by 2012 which presently are about 125000 per year now, in India.

Global Road Safety Partnership[GRSP]

GRSP is another international Body who is very actively engaged in various countries of  the world in  areas of road safety. G.R.S.P. is a hosted program of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (I.F.R.C.), based in Geneva

United Nations

The first United Nations Global Road Safety Week (GRSW) was held in the week of 23 – 29 April 2007 to draw attention to the global road safety crisis with a particular focus on young road users.

GRSP actively supported Global Road Safety Week on the global level and through many of its country programmes.Some of the activities in various programmes were as under-

In Ghana, programme in association with GRSP…(click for full detail )

There are many other organizations,civil society groups/NGOs who are engaged in the world & in India to bring about more safety on roads thru their various activities & programmes.
But, having said that, the fact remains that despite various efforts, fatalities numbers on roads in India per year is very high & is on the increase!?
Main  reasons for most of the accidents/ fatalities, as we all know, are———-
Inadequate law enforcement.
Stretched police, lack of motivation, at times- corrupt, insensitive, untrained/unskilled
Flood of semi-untrained drivers, due to lax policy in issue of driving licenses.
Surge in cars , trucks & bigger vehicles like containers-carriers, construction cranes, material handling equipments, bulldozers etc.
No segregation of fast moving & slow moving vehicles. These all ply on the same road width. Even pedestrians, some time are constrained to use roads, as the pedestrian walks/foot-paths are being used at times, by two-wheelers & cyclists!
Laxity in crack down on drunken drivers.
Inadequate, ill designed, ill placed road sign boards.
No comfortable/safe arrangement for crossing of pedestrians  on fast trafficked roads esp portions of national highways passing thru metros/city areas.
Lack of service roads.
Lack of fast courts.
Influence peddling-hardly any fear of law
Unfit vehicles on roads.
Ill maintained -potholes etc etc & ill-lighted roads.
All the above mentioned factors have come about,  after due deliberations, in so many meaningful workshops, seminars, conferences held on the subject of road safety from, time to time ,in India & abroad by many govt & non-govt organizations & also by observing the ground realities.
Very useful recommendations to tackle the situation viz accidents & fatalities  also, did emerge from time to time  but due to lack of their faithful implementation there has not been desired improvement in the situation!!

What are the reasons?

Lack of co-ordination between various authorities & stakeholders.
Lack of political commitment & bureaucratic application
Diffused responsibility.
Lack of monitoring.
Lack of regulation.
Lack of desired planning.
Dilution of values & ethics
Chalta hai attitude.
Lack of awareness
A few stark facts brought out by World Report on Road Traffic Injury prevention published by WHO
Pedestrians, bicyclists & MTW riders constitute 60-80 percent of traffic fatalities in India.
Car owners suffer 5 percent of the fatalities while vulnerable users like cyclists suffer more than 80 percent.
Heavy vehicles-trucks & buses account for 50-70 percent of road fatalities.
Alcohal-big risk factor.
Effects of Accidents/ fatalities…
 International Scenario-a few examples—-(click for full detail )
Singapore— (click for full detail )
Australia– (click for full detail )
UAE — (click for full detail )
China — (click for full detail )
Fiji     — (click for full detail )
MalaysiaArgentina– (click for full detail )
India had a road network of over 3 million kilometres, with an annual road traffic growth rate of 7-10 per cent.  Indian roads carried 85 per cent of the passenger and 60 per cent of the freight traffic, with highways carrying 40 per cent of that traffic, even though they comprised only two per cent of the road network.  India had lagged behind for many years in developing its highway system but a concerted effort had been made recently to improve highway engineering and advance the highway infrastructure.  Through the National Highway Development Project, over 14,000 kilometres of highways would be converted into four- or six-lane roads to connect all regions of the country.

Economic & social Angle            
Road traffic deaths and injuries had serious economic and social impacts on all nations, and in particular developing countries.  Road accidents produced some $65 billion in losses annually in developing countries, twice the annual amount received in development assistance.  Reducing road traffic incidents was, therefore, important for poverty eradication, reduction of child mortality and sustainable development.  It was particularly at times when countries were developing their road transport that the highest rates of accidents occurred because road conditions, human behaviour and management had difficulty keeping up with rapid development.  But, countries had the know-how to prevent such accidents.  Therefore, it was necessary for countries to share their experiences and learn from each other’s best practices.

It was also necessary for the international community to provide more assistance in funding, technology and training.   

A few questions?

Can road traffic injuries be prevented in this country-India?

Yes.It is possible.
But, then Road safety has to be a political priority and sustainable actions need to be taken in a very well co-ordinated manner in a given time frame.


 There are 4 different approaches in road safety i.e. education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency care. It is important to know the merits and demerits, advantages and the disadvantages of these intervention strategies.

The major focus of prevention by all concerned agencies has been to educate people with the hope that people would change their behaviors and practices. Every year, as part of the road safety celebrations or as road safety melas, crores of rupees are spent trying to provide information for people and to change their behaviors on the roads. We have been building and improving roads (at a slow pace) in the last 5 years and our roads are changing, at least in selected parts. Similarly, we are also making available fast moving vehicles to our younger generation and telling them – don’t drive fast. In reality, speeds are increasing day by day. Speed is a bigger killer and more people are getting killed because of this factor. Global evidence indicates that education alone is difficult to change behavior of people, in an activity which they have to perform for the whole of their life. A review of education programs has revealed that education by provision of knowledge alone, cannot yield tangible results, but are quite effective when combined with other interventions. Further, even developing education programs (which can really make an impact) is difficult in India with large socio-cultural diversities, so many languages, 30 states, different political parties, and a situation of inadequate resources. Every child who starts going to school today will end up spending rest of his life by using a vehicle on the roads.
With enforcement, the advantages are of visible enforcement, people are afraid of law- law when enforced can be a good deterrent, and impact can be easily measured in terms of deaths and injuries. However, disadvantages are that unless it is uniform, visible, accepted by the community, commitment by the enforcing agencies, and penalties are such that it affects the pockets of people, even this is unlikely to work. If we have a fine of Rs. 50 for an offence, nobody will attach any importance for the same. They are rather happy to pay Rs. 50 and walk away with it, then actually change their practices. Here corruption is perceived to be one of the big deterrent

In engineering approaches, it is more of a passive change. On the streets of Chandigarh-to give one example, we have seen, dedicated bicycle lanes, which is a good practice. By doing this, traffic mix is separated on the road. By traffic separation, the incoming and outgoing traffic does not mix. So,  lot of engineering changes can be done, which have longer impact and are effective. But it requires resources, commitment, and technology.
Behavior is one of the determinants, which is vital and needs to be understood in formulation of road safety programs. Hence, we need to develop systems where activities and programs can be integrated and coordinated with well defined monitoring systems. We need to think of other alternatives like Should we make our vehicles more visible and safer? Can our roads be more safe? Can measures be developed with which people are automatically safer ? In a recent published article, it has been shown that when people wear white and yellow color helmets the crash rate in this group was 30% less .

Causes of Accidents/ Injuries?

 Global evidence reveals that no road traffic injury occur due to one single cause. In one of  recent studies it was examined as to what are the human factors, vehicle factors, environment factors and system related issues. We see that speed is one of the biggest factors contributing for RTIs. Not following road traffic rules like overtaking another vehicle from the wrong direction, not wearing a helmet, driving under the influence of alcohol, sudden road crossing by pedestrians are all major human factors. Among the vehicle factors, – poor visibility of the vehicles, loss of balance, break failure, poor stability, crash worthiness being inadequate were the major issues. A number of environmental factors mainly related to the road design, maintenance, operation, standards, obstacle on road etc., contribute for the occurrence of RTIs. As mentioned earlier, no road traffic injury happens due to one single cause. In-depth qualitative case studies reveal a combination of several factors in RTI causation. In the example provided here – the motor cycle rider is not wearing a helmet – driving under the influence of alcohol- going in uncontrolled speed, – has lost balance of the vehicle- an invisible road hump is present – it is nighttime- has a skid and fall and is found lying on the road for the next 2 hours with nobody to attend to him. If we analyze this we see that there are multiple contributory factors for the death of this individual. Consequently, opportunities and potentials for intervention and prevention are also multiple; if a helmet was used,- drinking and driving were to be absent – speed control in place- road design and road environment were to be better – and trauma care were to be available at the right time. Thus, there are factors in road users, on the roads in the vehicles and in the health care systems. Our own experience reveals that helmet as a safety component is very vital in preventing brain injuries. But unfortunately, in this country we do not have strict helmet laws in place in most of the states. There are few states like Delhi and Chandigarh, with helmet laws but implementation is still inadequate. 
Why is it that we do not have a law specifying that all motorized two-wheelers should wear helmets and obviously protect them from brain injuries?! We have noticed from various studies that drinking and driving is closely linked to RTIs. In one-third of hospital admissions due to a RTI during night times, the victim is either under the influence of alcohol or he has been hit by another person driving under the influence of alcohol.

From the health sector, we have been spending crores of rupees on building high-tech hospitals, introducing sophisticated technology, introducing costlier and the most trendy facilities that are available in most developed parts of the world. But when we come to pre hospital and emergency care we notice that there are considerable delays in availability of care; reaching a definitive hospital; lots of medico legal hurdles because nobody wants to lift a person who is injured on the road to a hospital. (because he is afraid that he has to spend lot of hours in going to a court or to attend the court calls). There are instances where people have been lying on the road for >3 hours without anybody attending to him. There are lack of protocols for emergency care and lack of facilities in health care institutions. In a survey of 25 hospitals in Bangalore, it was observed that in government hospitals, facilities were poor for managing trauma patients. It is only referral to the next hospital along with lack of information to public at all times. The final truth is that nearly 20%-30% of total disabilities (for which we have rehabilitation programmes) are preventable with good prevention practices and early hospital care programs.

Road Ahead – Steps Needed to Be Taken

Different sectors of society & institutions need to come forward and join hands in this direction to make Indian roads a safer journey, as discussed earlier. 
Following text [most of the same also  recommended after detailed study, by one NGO, who is working in the area of road safety] enlists what different sectors of society can do to make road safety, a reality.

(click for full detail )

  1. Government and the Public Sector can work on:
  1. Local and Regional Governments can:
  1. Communities and Cultural or Ethnic Organizations can:
  1. Education Sector can:
  1. Media can:
  1. Police and Enforcement Agencies can:
  1. Health Agencies and Professionals can:
  1. Transport and Land-Use Planners can:
  1. Road Engineers and Highway Authorities can:
  1. Insurance Industry can:
  1. Alcohol and Hospitality Entertainment Industry:
  1. Vehicle Manufacturers and Importers can:
  1. Heavy Vehicle Transport Industry can:
  1. Driver Training Providers can:
  1. Motoring Associations can:…
  1. Advertisers can:…
  1. Researchers/Universities can:…
  1. All Organization can: …
  1. Individual Road Users can: …      

(click for full article detail at Dwarka Parichay )

One Response

  1. john bravon