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India Requires A Mindset Shift To Improve Road Safety

Context

  • Recently, the Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India, stated that the Indian road accident scenario is more serious than Covid-19, with 415 deaths and numerous injuries every day.
  • This demonstrates that, despite comprehensive road safety programmes, India’s record shows little improvement.

Relevance

GS Paper-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors.

GS Paper-3: Infrastructure financing and Capital markets, role of financing institutions.

Mains Question

The increased cases of road accidents in India call for a dire action plan of addressing road safety issues and accountability fixing at every level. Discuss (250 words)


A Quick Look at Road Accidents

  • Every year, approximately 1.3 million people worldwide are killed in traffic accidents.
  • Low- and middle-income countries account for more than 90 percent of road traffic fatalities.
  • India has the highest number of fatalities, accounting for approximately 11% of all fatalities worldwide.
  • According to the most recent annual report of the Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, the Government of India, a total of 4,12,432 road accidents were reported in the country in 2021.
  • Road accidents claimed over 1.5 million lives and injured approximately 3.8 million people.
  • The age group most affected by road accidents was 18-45 years, accounting for approximately 67 percent of total accidental deaths.

Road accident causes

  • Flagrant violations of traffic norms and values
    • Deadly violations of lane driving, speed limits, and traffic signals, as well as instances of at-will parking on the modern, smooth highways that are rapidly developing.
  • Human error o The single most significant factor is human error on the roads.
  • Deficits in infrastructure o Poor road and vehicle conditions, poor visibility, and poor road design and engineering – including material and construction quality, particularly on a single-lane with a sharp curve.
  • Inadequate Vehicle Safety Standards in India o In 2014, crash tests conducted by the Global New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) revealed that some of India’s best-selling car models failed the UN’s frontal impact crash test.
  • Lack of understanding of the significance of safety features such as airbags, anti-lock braking systems, and so on.
    • Distraction caused by talking on cell phones while driving has also become a major cause of road accidents.

Road safety is jeopardised in a variety of ways.

  • Scarce funds for road safety o The federal and state governments have insufficient funds to run complex road safety programmes.
    • The World Bank has provided India with a $250 million loan to address the high rate of road crashes through institutional reforms in road safety and results-based interventions.
  • Administrative and political considerations
    • Poor understanding of basic traffic rules and road signage by road users, easier access to driving licences without a meaningful ground examination of skills, and unchecked selfish and aggressive driving behaviour continue to dominate Indian road traffic.
  • Legal considerations
    • In the event of a serious road accident, charges are filed against the negligent drivers, but rarely (if ever) against road-safety public officials for non-performance, non-enforcement of traffic rules, and failure to take immediate corrective action on visible road hazards and black spots.
  • Institutions responsible for road safety are not held accountable.
    • Various road safety institutions, both at the national and state levels, are engaged in routine paperwork and bear no accountability for the failure to produce desired results.
    • A serious lack of rigour in devising systemic approaches and achieving results-based interventions has harmed the country’s road safety.

How can road safety be promoted?

  • A new Vehicle Act is required.
    • A newly enacted Motor Vehicles Act, a decentralised federal structure down to the level of district and panchayat administration, capable of addressing administrative and legal issues.
  • Empower the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety o Empowering the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety, as well as its regular monitoring of related issues, will go a long way.
  • Establish clear goals for reducing accidental crashes o A specific regime in which road safety authorities are given specific targets for reducing road crashes over a specified time period.
    • It should also be subjected to close and regular monitoring, review, and accountability.
  • Professional and time-bound enforcement o The administration’s professional enforcement of rules, as well as quick and innovative solutions to traffic indiscipline and bottlenecks, could help evolve a healthy safe-road culture.
    • In Delhi, the government’s insistence on drawing a bus lane on the city’s major roads was accepted and largely implemented overnight, and can be replicated elsewhere.

A model for improving road safety is proposed.

  • It is proposed to designate smaller areas, such as sections of major roads and highways, as “ideal” road safety zones, which will foster locally appropriate, comprehensive safe road practises and a flawless road safety culture.
  • Locating and marking the safe zones
    • Identify the two worst roads in a specific area, whether state or national highway/road/part, and designate each identified road as a Zone of Excellence (ZOE) in road safety (RS).
    • As much as possible, provide road markings/written instructions on the road surface/road signage, lanes for emergency vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, and so on.
    • To ensure adherence to basic traffic rules/safety norms, establish multiple checkpoints (CP), for example, every 2-4 kilometres, with each CP supported by road safety volunteers in addition to police.
    • Use technological aids sparingly in conjunction with manual interventions/volunteers, and supplement enforcement with road safety education/awareness measures.
    • Station ambulances and lift cranes for quick response to accidents, and make solid arrangements with hospitals/trauma centres through formal memorandums of understanding.
    • Each ZoE’s single goal is to meet the defined targets for reducing road crashes.
  • A three-tiered administrative structure for implementing road safety can be established.
    • Tier-1:
  • The Managing Group (MG) will be an autonomous and financially empowered body led by a senior civil servant or police official, with representatives from the police, transportation, and health sectors, the public works department, and elected leaders.
  • The MG would meet on a daily basis to reflect, analyse problems, incorporate suggestions, and assign tasks.
  • It would organise training and refresher courses for traffic officers and volunteers for road safety.
    • Tier-2 It would have district-level monitoring and dedicated personnel for ZoEs within a district.
  • This is where urgent solutions would be sought, budgetary allocations would be made, and review modes would be established to ensure target adherence.
  • Tier 3 would have top management and control, represented at the Union or state government level.
  • A dynamic road-safety ecosystem would be developed at this level.
  • Existing road safety institutions would be decommissioned or revitalised, and there would be monthly reviews with directions, accountability, and disciplinary action.

What are the advantages of such a mode?

  • This road safety model is logical, simple, practical, and convincing, and it would bring a new perspective to road safety measures.
  • A potentially effective action plan, as well as a dynamic live-experiment lab for road safety based on local and global best practises.
  • Proactive participation of elected officials, NGOs, RWAs, educational institutions, and volunteers.
  • An evolving standing expert think tank that would work to revitalise and develop existing and new road safety institutions.
  • It will lead to job creation as well as traffic decongestion and lane discipline.
  • A replicable model for other low and middle-income countries.

Conclusion

  • The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has undertaken a number of initiatives, including those relating to vehicular and road engineering, as well as educational initiatives aimed at increasing public awareness of road safety.
  • The need of the hour is for road safety to be viewed as a public health issue rather than a transportation issue that should be addressed in a mission mode, with a focus on behavioural change in society helping to achieve these targets sooner.

 

 

February 2023
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