Road accidents need a comprehensive policy
Whenever I travel abroad, especially to European countries, one thing that fascinates me is the scenic beauty along the road. But then, this scenic beauty looks picturesque on account of the amazing road infrastructure that has been created over the years. I rarely have come across any traffic jams or accidents during my trips abroad and all thanks to low motorization and near-perfect and automated traffic management.
The road accident curse in India is poised to take catastrophic proportions with annual economic loss figures estimated to be at Rs.1 lakh crores, according to International Road Federation (IRF). IRF underscores the attributed reasons being sheer ignorance and lack of political will to act. The Planning Commission in their effort to secure data during 2001-2003, suggested that in 1999-2000, the total loss on account of road accidents was a staggering Rs.55,000 crores, which at that point of time was 3 per cent of our GDP. According to NCRB, around 130,000 people lost their lives in 2010 alone due to road accidents. The Delhi Police Joint Commissioner (Traffic), Satyendra Garg, conceded that their hands are stifled because of antiquated penalty laws for traffic violators and there were 800,000 cases of violation in 2010 alone. This is more because the penalties set by Motor Vehicle Act of 1988 are simply archaic. As against the UN declaration of 2011-2020, ‘Decade of Action for Road Safety’, there should have been a resolute push towards curbing road accidents, but so far nothing concrete has been done except announcing series of fines and penalties.
In spite of the fact that India accounts for only 1 per cent of the world’s vehicles, it paradoxically witnessed 10 per cent of global road mishaps. The government does not seem to be gearing up for the problem as it has shown no progress in passing the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board Bill till date. Even developing countries like Cambodia and Vietnam are implementing laws like Global Helmet Vaccine Initiative with great results.
There has been rapid surge of number of vehicles over the past decade leading to augmentation of human fatalities. Vehicles surged from 7.3 crores in 2004 to 9.5 crores in 2007. There is a likewise increase of human lives lost from 81 per million in 1997 to 101 per million persons in 2007. That essentially works out to 4 per cent increase in fatalities between 1997 and 2004 and 8 per cent between 2004 and 2007. However, the increase of accidents with number of vehicles plying on the roads can be contained if road safeties are curbed and adequate measures are taken.
Apart from bettering road safety measures, India’s policy course on transport should encompass improving public transport. Mumbai with population of 13.9 million and Kolkata’s population of 12.7 million experiences public trips that are merely 80 per cent and 60 per cent respectively. Worse is the case in Delhi and Chennai with public trips being just 42 per cent of total conveyance each.
As I said earlier, it is just not about curbing the number of personal vehicles but is about working on various aspects simultaneously. Our policy makers only concentrate on one of the factor sidelining others which is most of the time dealt discreetly. What we need is a comprehensive traffic management act which encompasses problems of road accidents and public transports as well. Till then, I can just wish you a happy journey albeit with jerks!