By Pallavi Rachel George*
“It’s Road Safety, Not Rocket Science” is the road safety program of the city of Philadelphia. The program provides extremely catchy phrases like “objects in the mirror appear only when looked at- its road safety not rocket science”, telling its citizens to be smart on the roads. The initiative has received a lot of attention. The reason why I began the article with this example is to quickly make the reader wonder about any such programs in their locality. If you were able to come up with one, kudos. If however, like the majority of the people, you weren’t able to find one, then we need to do some thinking.
Every year, approximately 1.3 million people die as the result of road traffic collisions — more than 3,500 deaths per day. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), road traffic accidents kill more people around the world than malaria, and are the leading cause of death for young people aged five to 29 – especially in developing countries.Recognizing the gravity of the road safety crisis, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed in 2010 a Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020.
When it comes to the policy provisions for averting road accidents, India does not have much to its name. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, that has been governing our roads is too ineffective a tool to curb road accidents. The call for an amendment had been voiced first 15 years back, and it is yet to see the light of day. The Road Transport and Safety Bill 2014, which received wide public support after the demise of Union Minister Shri Gopinath Munde in June last year, now faces the threat of being reduced to just another draft, to be shelved, only to gather dust. The government has missed three self-imposed deadlines, and the bill itself has been severely diluted. Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari himself has said that corruption and vested interests have been stalling the bill. Even a strike was called by the transport sector against the “stringent” rules in the new bill. The Government of India recently released guidelines to protect good Samaritans who come forward to help road accidents victims. Fifty percent of road crash victims die of treatable injuries in the country, and this is a welcome step to reduce that number. The one hour after a road accident is known as the Golden Hour. The kind of aid the victim receives in this one hour is crucial in saving her life. However, by-standers most often hesitate to help the victim fearing police scrutiny and the hassle they might have to face in the hospital. The guidelines that have been issued ensures that the Samaritan is free of any accountability and sanctions disciplinary action against a doctor who does not provide care during an emergency. However, the difficulty lies in implementation. The public has to be convinced of the provisions of the guidelines, while the government needs to ensure they are duly followed.
Coming to the state level, there are councils and authorities that are responsible for road safety, such as the Kerala Road Safety Authority(KRSA). The Kerala Road Safety Authority Act, 2007, provides for a fund, comprising of taxes and grants, to be used specifically for road safety related programmes. Based on an RTI filed, the KRSA is yet to utilize Rs 52 crore of the fund earmarked for it from 2010 onwards. The act also states that the authority has the right to order removal of anything (tree, hoarding and other obstructions) that poses a threat. Failure to comply with their orders can even lead to imprisonment.
It is one thing to have the legislation in place. But it is a totally different ball game to actually execute the provisions. Reducing road accidents is a two way process. From the side of the government, infrastructure needs to be in place, regularly maintained and modified according to the demands of the location. For example, in Kerala, although we have a well-connected road network, the climate continues to be a hindrance. Potholes and overflowing sewers are part and parcel of the monsoon season. The streets are extremely narrow and difficult to navigate. Moreover, pedestrian pathways are close to being non-existent. In Delhi, on the other hand, the primary problem is the sheer volume of traffic on the roads. Hence, the most fundamental issue that needs to be addressed is infrastructure. The authorities also need to ensure that the laws are adequately followed. Increasing penalties for offences can have two effects: it can be deterrence for the public, as the stakes are now higher. However, it can also be a way to breed corruption. A fine of, say Rs. 2000, does not yield to much if the offender can simply bribe the traffic police officer for Rs. 1000. Hence, a high penalty must be rolled out with higher accountability and transparency.
The second approach to road safety is from the public. This involves a conscious effort to realize that, while on the road, we are not only responsible for ourselves, but also for those around us. Basic road safety rules must be ingrained in us, so much that it is almost reflexive. We need to move beyond the good old “ look both sides before you cross” slogan that we teach children. Driving classes can even be introduced in schools. Driving is a skill and hence can be taught, just like any sport. The school curriculum can include road safety as well. The media is the best way to reach the youth, and this can be exploited fully with relatable posters, advertisements and many other means.
According to WHO, without action, road traffic crashes are predicted to result in the deaths of around 1.9 million people annually by 2020. This number can only be reduced if each stakeholder takes the onus to act responsibly. I end where I began the article- It’s road safety. Not rocket science.
The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/may/11/most-dangerous-roads
Express News Service. 18th May 2015. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/thiruvananthapuram/Road-Safety-Authority-Yet-to-Utilise-Rs-52-Crore/2015/05/18/article2819785.ece
WHO media centre. Road traffic injuries http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs358/en/
* The Author is Research intern at CPPR and a student of Economics at St Stephens, Delhi
The views of the Author are persona and do not anyway represent that of CPPR