Reducing road crashes in India


On any given day, about 465 people die on roads in India. And about three times that number is injured daily. If you are a pedestrian or drive a two-wheeler or a car you need to be very cautious and vigilant.

This is despite central government’s continuing efforts to improve the grim situation. Try hard it may, just about anything connected with road crashes is on the rise over many years: number of road accidents, number of fatalities and number of injuries.

There are several multi-causal reasons for such a significant number of road crashes and causalities. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways’ 2022 Road Accidents on India report identifies several important ones.

Some of them are attributable to driving or the driver: Over speeding, drunken driving, driving on the wrong side, jumping red signal, and use of mobile while driving.

On the other hand, road accidents and fatalities are also attributed to bad or improper road infrastructure and design, lackadaisical enforcement, insufficient trauma care facility, rapid expansion of road network, increasing number of vehicles, and increase in average speed on road. 

The report doesn’t inform us how much each of these factors contribute. The main reason perhaps is that the ministry is totally dependent on states to share road accident figure (road transport is on the Concurrent list). And, at the state level, that responsibility falls squarely on the police who are not trained or equipped to diagnose the cause of the crashes.

The number of persons dying on Indian roads can be assessed in at least three different ways. The first of course is to look at what is happening elsewhere. Globally, the number of road deaths in India is more than the combined death rate due to road crashes in bottom 16 of the top 20 countries where the issue is of concern.

One can also gauge road crashes in terms of population of a country. China’s population, for example, was higher than India’s in 2020. However, its road fatalities were less than half (about 61,000) of what it was in India.

If one were to consider the number of four wheelers (mostly cars) into account, United States has more four-wheelers than India (29 crore vs 7 crore). But death due to road crashes in the USA is about three and half times less than in India.

Nearer home, comparing road fatalities in Delhi and Mumbai (Brihanmumbai, to be precise) is revealing. According to 2021 Delhi Road Crash Report, 1239 persons died due to road crashes in the city. In Brihanmumbai, the same year, the number was 387, according to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra 2022-23.

Almost half of road fatalities in Brihammumbai happened in just one part of the nation’s capital: West Delhi. West Delhi is the most accident prone. 187 fatalities happened in West Delhi with most crashes happening in Burari, Najafgarh and Bawana.

The road accident severity rate in India — number of persons killed per 100 accidents — has been consistently rising since the year 2000. It was 20.2 in 2000 and has shot up to 37.3 in 2021. It decreased slightly to 36.5 in 2022. Southern states such as Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have done better than the All India average of 36.5 in 2022.

Although state highways constitute less than 3 percent of the total road network in the country, about 25 percent of road deaths happen on them.

The WHO says road deaths are a preventable health epidemic. In India, road traffic injuries are among the top 10 leading causes of deaths. There is no gainsaying that road crash injuries and deaths should come down drastically.

A number of practical and often simple methods can ensure road safety. Electronic enforcement, enhanced penalties, speed calming strips, correct use of helmets, wearing seat belts, identification of the so-called ‘blackspots’, training of police personnel, and a comprehensive and coordinated approach among various departments can minimize road injuries and deaths.

It isn’t about doing anything more. It’s about strict enforcement of traffic rules to reduce the number of people dying because of road crashes. 

Pradeep Krishnatray is a former director of research at Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (India). He currently teaches at IFHE University in Hyderabad.

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