In December 2023, India’s road safety record continues to be a matter of concern. Despite various government interventions, road accidents claimed 19 lives every hour in the country. Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, expressed his disappointment over the rising road accident deaths and emphasized the need for a new generation of road users who respect traffic rules. In a positive development, Karnataka launched its first road safety mass media campaign, “The High Cost of Speeding: Story of Purushottama,” to mark the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. The campaign aims to highlight the devastating outcomes of speeding and encourage drivers to obey speed limits.
This topic of “Road Accidents in India – Factors, Statistics, Policies” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
Overview of Road Safety in India
Road safety is a significant concern in India, with road accidents resulting in the loss of lakhs of lives and serious injuries to crores of people every year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India lost approximately 300,000 lives due to road crashes in 2016, with up to 50 times this number suffering injuries, some of which led to disabilities.
- Magnitude of the Problem: Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among those aged 15–29 years. In 2018, the number of deaths reported due to road crashes in India was 150,785, which rose to 153,792 in 2021. The economic loss from road traffic injuries is expected to be approximately 3% of the country’s gross domestic product.
- Key Risk Factors: Over speeding remains the most common reason for road fatalities, followed by driving under the influence of alcohol, driving on the wrong side of the road, jumping red lights, using mobile phones while driving, not wearing a securely strapped quality helmet, and skipping wearing the seat belt.
- Road Users Affected: A majority of those dying on the roads are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. Young people, especially those who are the sole bread-earners for their family, are more vulnerable.
- Road Design and Engineering: Many road crashes are a result of faulty road design and engineering. Non-adherence to legislation is a major reason for road crashes.
- Global Comparison: The Global Status Report on Road Safety by the WHO shows that while the annual number of road traffic deaths dropped by 5% to 1.19 million per year globally, the numbers continue to rise in India.
Despite the grim statistics, there are a few bright spots in India’s road safety record. For instance, the Zero Fatality Corridor on NH-48 or the old Mumbai-Pune highway saw a 61% dip in deaths over three years (2018-21), and the Safe Corridor Demonstration Project in Karnataka on State Highway-20 (Belgaum-Yaragatti Highway) saw a 54% reduction in deaths in three years (2015-18). In Kolkata, road-crash deaths have reduced by 58% since 2016 after the police analyzed the city’s accident data and rectified road-engineering defects.
Factors Contributing to Road Accidents
The causes of these accidents are multifaceted, involving a combination of human errors, vehicle conditions, and environmental factors.
Human errors are the primary cause of road accidents in India, accounting for a significant proportion of incidents. These errors include:
- Over Speeding: Over speeding is a common behavior among road drivers, leading to many fatal accidents. The increase in speed multiplies the risk of accidents and the severity of injuries during the accident.
- Distracted Driving: Distracted driving, such as reading messages, replying to texts, taking calls, reading, grooming, etc., behind the wheel, is one of the most common causes of road accidents.
- Drunk Driving: Driving under the influence of any drug is dangerous and often leads to severe accidents.
- Reckless Driving: Reckless driving, including rash driving and violation of rules, contributes significantly to road accidents.
- Traffic Rule Violations: Failure to understand and follow traffic signs and rules is a common cause of accidents.
The condition of vehicles on the road also plays a significant role in road accidents. Many vehicles on the road are old and poorly maintained, with faulty brakes, tires, and other essential parts. Overloaded vehicles, particularly trucks and buses, are a significant cause of accidents on highways.
Environmental factors, including road and weather conditions, also contribute to road accidents. Poor road infrastructure, such as poorly designed roads with inadequate lighting, improper signage, and potholes, can cause accidents. Adverse weather conditions such as heavy rain, fog, and hail can also contribute to road accidents, especially on highways.
Lack of Awareness
A lack of awareness about traffic rules, safe driving practices, and road safety measures among the general public is also a significant cause of road accidents in India.
It is essential to address these factors to reduce the number of road accidents in India and make roads safer for everyone.
Government Initiatives and Policies
The Indian government has taken several initiatives and implemented various policies to improve road safety in the country. These measures aim to reduce the number of road accidents and fatalities, improve road infrastructure, and promote safe driving practices.
- Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019: This Act was passed to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, with the aim of improving road safety. The Act has provisions for stricter penalties for traffic rule violations, protection of Good Samaritans, recall of defective vehicles, and electronic monitoring and enforcement of road safety.
- National Road Safety Policy: The policy outlines various policy measures such as promoting awareness, establishing road safety information databases, encouraging safer road infrastructure, enforcement of safety laws, and emergency medical services for road accidents.
- Road Safety Audits: The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has made it mandatory for all new road projects to have a road safety audit. The audit is a check of the road design from the safety perspective and is carried out at different stages of road construction.
- National Highways Authority of India (NHAI): NHAI has taken several initiatives to improve road safety on national highways. These include installation of crash barriers, rumble strips, and reflective road signs, and regular safety audits.
- Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP): The program aims to implement a star rating system for new passenger car models based on their safety performance. It is expected to encourage manufacturers to improve the safety standards of their vehicles.
- Good Samaritan Law: The law protects individuals who come forward to help road accident victims. It aims to encourage people to provide timely medical assistance to accident victims without fear of legal harassment.
- Road Safety Week: The government observes Road Safety Week every year to raise public awareness about traffic rules and promote safe driving practices.
- Integrated Road Accident Database (IRAD): Launched by MoRTH, IRAD is a centralized database for all road accidents in the country. It aims to analyze the causes of road accidents and develop targeted interventions.
Despite these initiatives, road safety in India remains a significant concern. The effectiveness of these measures is yet to be fully realized, as road accidents continue to be a leading cause of deaths and disabilities in the country. There is a need for more comprehensive and effective implementation of these policies and initiatives, along with regular monitoring and evaluation of their impact.
- Poor Road Conditions and Infrastructure: One of the main reasons for road accidents in India is poor road design and inadequate infrastructure. This includes poorly maintained roads, missing or inadequate road signs, and poorly designed intersections that create dangerous situations for drivers and pedestrians.
- Lax Enforcement: Despite the existence of traffic laws, lax enforcement is a significant problem. This lack of enforcement contributes to undisciplined driving and over speeding, which account for a significant number of accidents.
- Unsafe Vehicles: Unsafe vehicles, often due to weak vehicle safety standards, are another major cause of road accidents in India.
- Stray Animals: Stray animals on the roads lead to a significant number of accidents in India.
- Inefficient Public Transport: The paucity of end-to-end public transport and its inefficiencies in India leads to the public opting for private vehicles, increasing the risk of accidents.
- Laxity in Driving License Regulations: The lax procedure in obtaining a driving license contributes to the high number of unqualified drivers on the road, leading to more accidents.
Strategies for Enhancing Road Safety
- Better Road Design and Infrastructure: Improving road design and infrastructure is crucial to reducing the number of road accidents. This can be achieved by constructing divided highways, separate lanes for slow-moving vehicles, and well-designed intersections to reduce the risk of accidents.
- Stronger Enforcement of Traffic Laws: Strengthening the enforcement of traffic laws can significantly reduce the number of road accidents. This includes stricter penalties for traffic violations and more rigorous enforcement of speed limits.
- Improved Vehicle Safety Standards: Enhancing vehicle safety standards can lead to safer vehicles on the roads, thereby reducing the risk of accidents.
- Public Awareness Campaigns: Public awareness campaigns can play a crucial role in educating the public about road safety, leading to more responsible driving behavior.
- Investment in Road Safety: The World Bank and Asian Development Bank have each announced USD$250 million in funding to support India’s Program for Strengthening Road Safety, an investment to be matched by the Government of India for a sum $1 billion investment in road safety.
- Community-Driven Initiatives: Community-driven initiatives, such as the Indian Road Safety Campaign, can play a significant role in improving road safety. These initiatives involve the community in spreading awareness, developing technologies, making laws efficient, improving infrastructure, designing efficient policies, and training people.
- Monitoring of Roads: The use of CCTV cameras integrated with intelligent solutions can provide real-time data to traffic officials, enabling them to take immediate action in emergency situations.
- Behavioral Design Principles: Instead of solely relying on punitive measures, it may be beneficial to explore behavioral design principles to encourage safe road behaviors. Designing road environments using perceptual and visual strategies can heighten the perceived risk, urging motorists to remain highly vigilant and thereby enhancing overall safety.
- Establishing a National Harmonized Crash Database System: A national harmonized crash database system can help in monitoring and analyzing road accidents, identifying accident hot spots, and developing targeted interventions.
- Incentivizing State Governments: The World Bank and Asian Development Bank have announced funding to support India’s Program for Strengthening Road Safety. The scheme will incentivize State governments to drive road safety interventions at the grassroots level.
Community and Non-Profit Contributions
Non-profit organizations and community groups play a significant role in promoting road safety in India. They contribute to the cause through various initiatives, including awareness campaigns, education programs, advocacy for policy changes, and on-ground training programs.
- SaveLIFE Foundation: This non-profit organization is committed to improving road safety and emergency medical care across India. It focuses on collecting, compiling, and generating authentic, verifiable data and information on road safety and emergency care. The foundation has proposed policy changes in two broad areas: Accident Prevention and Post-Accident Response. It has also provided model on-ground training programs and pilot projects across different parts of the country. Notably, SaveLIFE Foundation filed a writ petition in 2012, which led to the Supreme Court giving ‘force of law’ to the guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by the Central Government for the protection of Good Samaritans from harassment by authorities.
- TRAX: This NGO is dedicated to road safety using psychological and innovative approaches. It has been working in the field of road safety for over 15 years. TRAX has initiated a one-year program called ‘Road Safety and Juniors’, in collaboration with the Government of Haryana and M.G Motor, which focuses on spreading road safety awareness among school students.
- Muskaan Foundation: This foundation actively engages communities in road safety through social and technical audits. It has been at the forefront of developing, updating, and implementing regular road safety programs. The foundation also advocates for city, state, and national policy changes, working towards enhanced road infrastructure, effective traffic management systems, and strict enforcement of traffic regulations.
- Indian Road Safety Campaign: This non-profit organization has been entrusted by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRT&H) to lead road safety activities aimed at increasing grassroots level citizen involvement in road safety measures across the nation.
- SAFE India: This organization focuses on the behavioral aspect of driving training, which it believes is the most critical area that, if addressed properly, has the potential to significantly bring down casualties.
- UYIR: This public movement was launched at Coimbatore to reduce road traffic accidents. Early results following the implementation of this program showed promising results with a reduction in major accidents.
These organizations and initiatives have made significant contributions to road safety in India. However, the challenge is enormous, and continuous efforts are needed to make India’s roads safer.
Road safety in India is a critical issue that requires the concerted efforts of various stakeholders, including the government, non-profit organizations, and the community. While significant strides have been made in recent years, there is still a long way to go in ensuring that India’s roads are safe for all users. The contributions of non-profit organizations and community groups are invaluable in this regard, as they bring innovative approaches, grassroots involvement, and a relentless commitment to the cause of road safety.
Examine the key challenges and opportunities in improving road safety in India, focusing on the contributions of non-profit organizations and community efforts. (250 words)