There have been several reports recently which indicate that road accidents due to drunken driving are increasing. In particular the rules relating to distancing of liquor availability from highways are being widely flouted. A recent detailed report on the situation regarding some highways passing through Haryana, in particular the Delhi-Jaipur highway,( Dainik Tribune August 24, 2022) states that there are several indicators on these highways of how close the nearest liquor availability vend is located! In some cases the divider near such information points is found to be conveniently broken to allow vehicles on both sides to access the liquor joint.
In fact, this report says, in some cases even suggestions that lower or discounted price liquor is available are also made to incentivize the highway drivers or commuters.
According to recently released official data as many as 5600 deaths in road accidents in India were caused during the last three years mainly by the presence of pot holes on Indian roads. These official sources did not have much to say about why such an avoidable big tragedy was allowed to happen.
The state of Himachal Pradesh (as well as other Himalayan states) is known to be excessively prone to road accidents, recording on average over 1000 deaths in road accidents in a single year. The rainy season is a particularly adverse time for road safety here and several serious accidents have taken place in recent times, apart from the more frequent examples of boulders and stones falling on or near commuters in landslide prone areas. It was surprising, therefore, to learn from reports that a race of cars and bikes in being organized in Manali and nearby areas on August 27. In fact in newspaper reports this is being publicized as a high risk event where speeding cars and bikes will be driving on some of the more dangerous roads of the world. This is being organized at a time of daily reports in recent days of how many roads in the state have been badly damaged by rains, even bridges have collapsed and many people have been cut-off from regular contacts.
Such reports indicate that despite claims to the contrary, road safety is far from becoming truly a priority concern for the Indian authorities. Neglect in this crucial area can prove very costly as deaths and injuries by accidents, and particularly road accidents, are already at a very high level in India.
According to a widely quoted recent report published in the Lancet Public Health Journal, the number of estimated road accident deaths in 2017 in India was 2,19,000, 71000 more than the numbers that the road transport ministry collected from all the states.
This study titled ‘Mortality due to road injuries in the states of India : The Global Burden of Disease’ (for the period 1990-2017) has stated that the number of deaths due to road accidents increased by 58.7% during this period in India, as compared to only 8.1% at world level. This aspect of a much higher rise of accidents is really terrible, as the means of reducing accidents significantly are clearly available. The death rate for motorcyclists in India (according to this study) was 66% higher than the world average, while that for cyclists was 33% higher. The number of pedestrians who died was 76,229, the number of motor-cyclists was 57,802 and that of cyclists was 15324. This is the data based on the recent Lancet study. The official death toll for pedestrians was only 20,457 while that for cyclists was 3599. The realization of death toll being so high is really very sad, as so much expertise has been available in the country for reducing accidents and the severity of injuries.
We should not forget the great harm done by injuries, as the real burden of injuries has been underestimated in India to an even greater extent in India. In the UK during the year July 2012-June 2013, 1730 people were killed in road accidents. However the number of people injured in road accidents during the same period was as high as 1,85,540. In other words injuries caused by road accidents in this country are more than one hundred times the fatalities. Now let’s look at the official data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) which in turn is based on road accident data sent by police stations all over the country. This data tells us that as many as 141526 persons died and 477731 were injured in road traffic accidents in India in 2014. In other words the number of injuries related to road accidents was counted in India at just three times higher than deaths, compared to 100 times for the UK..
The Status Report on Road Safety in India (2015) prepared by the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Program of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi has also quoted several studies which indicate that the extent of under-reporting is likely to be very high in the case of road accident injuries. Trying to work out the most likely figures on the basis of the existing studies this IIT report estimates that for every fatality there are likely to be 15 serious injuries and 50 minor injuries related to road traffic accidents. Thus for 219,000 deaths there are likely to be 142 lakh injuries in a year (1 million=10 lakh),compared to the less than 5 lakh reported by official data.
Similarly the prospects of reducing deaths and injuries relating to various workplace, domestic and other accidents in India, particularly those relating to large gatherings and festivals, are huge in India. It is very important to give this the form of a nationwide campaign of people which gets adequate support from the government at all levels. The potential of reducing human distress related to all accidents, particularly road accidents but also other accidents like occupational accidents, is huge in India and it is high time that we wake up to this reality.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now.. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and A Day in 2071.