17 deaths an hour: Gadkari must walk the talk on killer Indian roads

Last Updated: Tue, Jul 12, 2016 16:18 hrs

Nitin Gadkari, the Minister of Road Transport & Highways, released the report ‘Road Accidents in India 2015’ on 9 June 2016. 

It revealed that, on an average, 1,374 accidents and 400 deaths took place every day on Indian roads. In other words, there were 57 accidents and 17 fatalities every hour. Most alarmingly, the situation appears to be worsening -

  • The total number of road accidents in 2015 was 501,423 – an increase of 2.5 per cent over 489,400 in 2014.
  • Number of persons killed in road accidents in 2015 was 146,133 – an increase of 4.6 per cent over 139,671 in 2014.
  • Road accident injuries also increased by 1.4 per cent from 493,474 in 2014 to 500,279 in 2015. Worse, the severity of road accidents, measured in terms of number of persons killed per 100 accidents also increased from 28.5 in 2014 to 29.1 in 2015.
  • Most tragically, about 54.1 per cent of all persons killed in road accidents were in the 15 -34 years age group. 
The above report identifies drivers’ fault to be responsible for a whopping 77.1 per cent of the road accidents. 

Therefore, drivers’ conduct deserves maximum attention. It is estimated that close to 35 percent accidents occur due to the drivers’ misdemeanour – deliberate disregard for the traffic norms/rules (over-speeding, drunken driving, jumping red-lights etc). 

However, majority of accidents (close to 65 percent) take place due to drivers’ ignorance of the traffic rules.

Intentional flouting of traffic laws can be curbed only through punitive measures. For that, it is essential that no transgression goes undetected. Errant drivers must fear discovery of their offence. 

Increased monitoring through TV cameras and physical policing are essential. Punishment for proven traffic violation should be severe enough to act as a deterrent.

Opposition to helmets and seat beats defies logic. Lack of concern for personal safety is, perhaps, the most startling aspect of peoples’ psyche. They appear to be getting a kick in flouting even those rules that are meant to save their lives. 

Using mobiles while driving two wheelers gives the riders a sense of misplaced bravado: they are ready to risk their lives for small thrills. Their disobedience of laws amounts to shooting in their own foot. Such delinquents must be dealt with strictly.

It is a well known fact that most driving licenses are issued through touts and no tests are held to gauge an applicant’s knowledge of traffic rules and regulations. Therefore, it is the prevailing ignorance that poses the biggest challenge.

Ignorance is the Root Cause 

Overtaking from the left is endemic. Worse, horns are blown to ask the leading vehicle to move to the right to make way. When queried for overtaking from the left on a sharp left turn, a young IT professional looked surprised. 

His reply was more worrisome, “What wrong have I done? Don’t we elbow our way through a crowded street?” According to him, driving a vehicle on a crowded road was no different than walking in a busy street.

On multi-lane roads, most drivers merrily criss-cross lanes to forge ahead. At red lights, they form additional lines to overtake those waiting for their turn. Resultantly, traffic gets choked and it becomes free for all. Driving in the wrong direction on a one-way street (with lights on to caution others) is a common sight.

An informal survey threw up startling revelations – the extent of ignorance was appalling. Most taxi-drivers and two-wheeler riders did not know even the basics, like the significance of zebra crossings. Many thought it to be a part of road decoration.

Not one, yes not one, driver (including owners of expensive vehicles) knew the import of dividing lines (broken, single continuous and parallel) and lane lines.

Most did not know the connotation of mandatory signs (in red circles), cautionary signs (in red triangles) and informatory signs (in black rectangles). Quite expectedly, pedestrians were equally ignorant and thought that road rules apply only to the vehicular traffic and not to them. 

They believed that they were free to cross roads anytime and anywhere (including busy crossings). Most pedestrians felt that it was the responsibility of the drivers not to hit them. Hence, it is not uncommon to see pedestrians crossing busy roads while engrossed in animated mobile chats, totally oblivious to the speeding traffic; thereby transferring the onus of their safety to the drivers.

Surprisingly, even the basic precautions are routinely ignored. While escorting toddlers or old/infirm persons on the road, many people were seen keeping them on the outer side (exposed to traffic). When advised to keep them tucked inside (away from the roadside), they appreciated guidance. 

They were unaware of such a small but significant safety measure.

The Way Forward

Above observations are not exhaustive. They are indicative of the level of prevailing ignorance, both amongst the drivers and the public at large. And, ignorance can only be eradicated by awareness, and the government has to undertake that responsibility.

The government has been successfully running some media campaigns with telling effect. Visuals of mouth cancer due to tobacco chewing are highly dissuasive. 

Current anti-smoking campaign, wherein a daughter is shown looking pleadingly at her cigarette smoking father, has a telling effect. Similarly, necessity for latrines in houses is being well highlighted through short TV clips.

Recently, a video clip was in circulation on the social media that showed fatal consequences of momentary diversion of attention while driving, both due to mobiles and other distractions. It is an excellent production and conveys the warning compellingly.

It is strongly recommended that the government undertakes a concerted campaign to educate the people about rules of the road. For that, TV is the ideal medium. 

The campaign should focus both on apprising people of traffic rules/norms and highlighting the risks of disregarding safety precautions.

A number of short TV clips should be produced by the government covering various aspects of traffic rules and regulations. Each clip should cover a specific rule/norm and be of maximum 30 seconds duration. Help of private ad agencies should be taken for their production.

A clip from the movie ‘Traffic’ will force people to appreciate the need for helmets. The scene shows two persons riding a motor cycle, one wearing helmet and the other bare- headed. The motorcycle meets with an accident. 

Both fall on their heads but only the one wearing helmet survives. Parents lament that their failure to insist on helmet had cost them their son. Nothing can drive home the point better. Similarly, a short clip showing a wife (with two small children) pleading with her husband to wear helmet for the sake of the family will certainly have the necessary impact.

A bank of such short educative clips should be made available to all TV channels. They should be asked to devote one minute per hour of their telecast time to telecast two clips of 30 seconds each. They can choose any clips from the bank available with them.

It should be part of their social corporate responsibility. One is sure that most channels would willingly comply. Should there be any dissenters; the government can mandate it as well.

Indian traffic scene is chaotic. It is a nightmare to drive or walk on Indian roads. It is free for all. As stated earlier, many violations of traffic rules are deliberate by delinquent drivers but most are due to sheer ignorance. 

Reduction in road fatalities can be achieved only by educating the people and the visual media with its country-wide reach is the best medium for the purpose.

Despite Nitin Gadkari’s repeated reiteration of government’s resolve to reduce road accidents, very little discernible action has been taken so far. It is high time that he walks the talk.
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 Major General Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD, commanded an Engineer Regiment on the Siachen Glacier, the most hostile battlefield in the world. A highly qualified officer (B Tech, MA (Public Administration), MSc (Defence Studies) and a Doctorate in Public Administration) he was also the Task Force Commander at Pokhran and was responsible for designing and sinking shafts for the nuclear tests of May 1998.

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