What is the solution to India’s high accident rate?
Traffic problems aren’t something to take lightly anymore, not when we have been proclaimed as the nation with the most traffic accidents. Sample the statistics:
- Road accidents last year – more than 130,000 dead, set to increase to to jump to 150,000 (per annum) by 2015.
- 10 percent of the (million-plus) fatal accidents in the world happen in India
- India has just 1 percent of the world’s vehicles, but accounts for 10 percent of the world’s road accidents
- We lose 3 percent of our GDP per annum due to road accidents
- 70 percent of road accidents take away the main wage earner
- Mortality rate per 10,000 vehicles is 14 (less than two for developed countries)
- According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB, 2006 figures), Tamil Nadu (14 per cent of all accidents) and Maharashtra (12.4 per cent) have the maximum accidents in the country
These stats could frighten anyone wanting to visit India…but rest assured, fancy tourist buses and motor cars are least likely to be involved in accidents.
Who are the real victims?
Where cities are concerned, let us take the example of a metro like Chennai. The accident break-up (period of six months) goes like this:
- 44 per cent of the total number of deaths – Two-wheeler riders and pillion riders, including cyclists
- 34 percent of road deaths- Pedestrians
These are the victims and the killers are usually heavy vehicles, and although cars are involved, they are not the main culprits. Buses are serial killers, whether in the cities or on highways. But it is is not the fancy tourist buses which are guilty as they are manned by trained and responsible drivers.
If we take highway deaths across India, again the vehicles involved are trucks, dumpers and buses, although here it is those traveling in them who die. Overloaded buses are the worst affected, and kill dozens of people at a time. Like the bus crash in Assam a few days ago which killed 23 people and injured 40. In Assam, about 1600 people were killed in about 5,000 road accidents in 2007!
Courts and the police unable to act
India has one of the highest accident rates but one of the lowest conviction rates of errant drivers, which can sink lower than 10 percent. This happens because of court delays (giving witnesses/accused a chance to disappear and in high profile cases, turn hostile) and light punishment for those held guilty. For example, drunk drivers get a six month prison sentence or a fine of Rs 2000/- but hardly anyone ever goes to prison. Also, as we do not rely on forensic or scientific investigation to prove guilt, the offender walks free.
A comparison with the West
A traffic offense in developed countries could mean your license being impounded for life. Insurance companies also act tough. Insurance premiums triple for those who have been involved in a serious traffic offense. The more accidents you are involved in, the more your premium increases. In India we do not even have a national database to record all accidents so we cannot know a person’s accident history.
Rash drivers in the US can be charged with misdemeanor (one year jail term), felony charges, vehicular manslaughter and vehicular homicide. These crimes carry severe punishment and it gets progressively more severe with each offense. If a driver kills, the license is taken away and the driver can be banned from driving in that country.
How is our government tackling the road accident problem?
The government is planning to make safety features on cars and speed governors compulsory on heavy vehicles (besides other measures), but how will this work? Safety features on cars will bring down car deaths but what about people travelling in buses? And it is very easy to “fix” speed governers, specially as they drivers know they aren’t going to be checked.
The root of the problem is the rot in the the RTO’s (Road Transport Organisations). Let’s crack down on them first.
To cut fatalities drastically, start with the highway drivers
Disciplining city drivers is wonderful, but there needs to be an equal emphasis on the highway drivers. Monitoring them is tough however, because of a shortage of traffic cops. Why, even the high profile mumbai-pune expressway doesn’t have any! But if we cannot have the cops, the only answer is trained drivers. An obvious solution to anyone living in a developed country, but in India it isn’t that obvious! It’s criminal that truck and bus drivers are not properly trained (licenses are given out without proper tests) and often drive under the influence of liquor.
This needs fixing too. Better roads and better trained drivers are fine, but it’s time to fix the attitude problem of our populace. Safe drivers are supposedly not “cool” enough and are considered timid. Breaking traffic rules is considered daring, particularly going beyond the legal speed limit. Education is certainly not the solution as educated drivers seem to be bolder! This attitude that obeying traffic rules is for sissies has to go…
The uneasy feeling one gets is that these road accident figures do not reflect the reality. You and me know that there are more accidents than those reported.
But now that India that India has been officially stamped as a country with the most road accidents, one hopes that drastic measures are taken to fix the problem. Whether it is improving the roads, getting rid of badly maintained vehicles, penalizing inept and drunken drivers, attacking corruption and developing a civilized traffic culture – we need to get there fast. Corruption is the main issue. Considering that by 2020 road deaths will become the number three killer, behind heart disease, suicide, and perhaps even Aids, it’s time to do.
We can start with ourselves. I’ve broken a traffic light once or twice in the past although I would never do a thing like that now. What about you? Try this poll.
(Photograph is copyrighted to me)
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