Pathways for Reducing Road Accidents

UN Road Safety Week Ends On Sunday May 23


            The Road Safety Week ( May 17-23 ) ends  on Sunday and this is a good time to reflect on the enormous prospects that exist for reducing road-accident related distress worldwide. Nearly 1.35 million people ( 13.5 lakh) die in a typical year worldwide in road traffic accidents while around 35 million suffer non-fatal injuries. No tragedy is considered bigger than a young member of the family dying. Road traffic accidents constitute the number one cause of death in the age-group 5-29 years. A 50% reduction in road traffic accidents, which is achievable, will lead to saving 675000 lives in a year and protecting from 17.5 million injuries in a year.

This latest  WHO data also tells us that low and middle income countries have 60 per cent of the world’s vehicles, but 93 per cent of the road traffic accidents.

Keeping in view the success achieved in road accidents as well as fatality rate, it should be possible to reduce road accident deaths and injuries at least by around 50 per cent by a well-coordinated plan, involving government efforts as well as people’s campaign. There is a truly great scope here for reducing human distress in a very big way.

The Global Status Report on Road Safety (the GSRRS) has identified five key risk factors for legislation on road safety-speed, drink-driving, motor cycle helmets, seat belts and child restraints.

The GSRRS has also highlighted the important role that better and safer roads can play in reducing accidents and injuries among all road users. This report has recommended that governments should conduct regular safety audits of existing and new road projects. The GSRRS says, “Road infrastructure is mainly constructed with the needs of motorists in mind, although 49% of all road traffic deaths occur among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.”

Poor quality of road maintenance and construction can sometimes lead to very serious accidents, a risk that is seen all too frequently in India.

It is no less important to implement minimum vehicle safety standards. The GSRRS says that less than 50% of countries implemented minimum standards of vehicle safety, and that these standards are notably absent in many of the large middle-income countries that are major car manufacturers.

Non-use or absence of seat-belts can increase risk by 45% and absence of child-restraints can be even more risky. Absence of proper helmets can increase risk of head injury by 69 per cent. Vehicle safety neglect is generally associated with cheaper vehicles, but is not absent even in some highly priced ones. Shockingly unsafe vehicles, a hazard to occupants as well as others, as well as highly overloaded ones are a common sight on roads in India.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (UK) (ROSPA), even a modest speed reduction can help to reduce the number of accidents as well as severity of accidents. For example, it has been observed that pedestrians hit at speeds below 30 mph receive mainly survivable injuries but this changes to mainly fatal injuries at speeds of between 30 mph and 40 mph. (ROSPA- Inappropriate Speed 2011).

Reducing speed is also the main theme me of the UN safety week ending today and one can only hope that this message has been well-absorbed. According to the WHO, one per cent increase of  mean speed can lead to 3 to 4 per cent increase in fatal and serious road accidents. Increase from 50 to 65 km. per hour can lead to 4.5 times higher risks for pedestrians being hit by car-fronts.

New threats to safety have emerged which were not so important earlier. At the same time new facts have emerged about threats which existed earlier also but were not acknowledged to be very serious. It was always known that sleepiness can be very harmful for driving, but the extent of the destruction that can be caused by this simple and easily controllable factor is better recognized now. It is shocking to know that as many as 20% of accidents on motorways in the UK are caused by sleepiness and more than one-sixth of all lives lost in this country due to road accidents are caused by this factor. Over 300 people per year are killed in this country by drivers falling asleep while driving.

According to recent research using hand-held or hands free mobile phone while driving increases the risk of the driver crashing, injuring or killing themselves or/and others by four times (Using mobile phone while driving  GOV, UK 2013).

In India eminent researcher on road safety Dinesh Mohan ( who passed away on Friday)  presented evidence showing that the role of drunken driving in road accidents may be much higher than what is revealed by the routine statistics. He wrote, “In the absence of more detailed epidemiological data we can only surmise that the high rates at night could be due to higher speeds of vehicles when traffic volumes are lower and / or higher frequency of driving under the influence of alcohol. Evidence for increased use of alcohol comes from a  hospital study in Delhi where 29% of the riders of motorized  two-wheelers admitted to alcohol consumption before the crash. In Bangalore, a hospital-based study showed that alcohol was involved in 22% of nighttime crashes, and that 35% of randomly checked drivers on the road at night were under the influence of alcohol.”

While powerful interests have to be confronted to improve some important aspects of road safety, in some other areas important gains can be made by strong and well planned public campaigns. The scope for creative and innovative ways of reducing road traffic accidents is immense. Public campaigns should be combined with better laws, funding and government efforts to reduce road accidents, injuries and fatalities in a big way in a relatively short time

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man over Machine and Earth Without Borders.



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