From Delhi to Patna to down south, hospitals are overflowing with road accident victims. Down To Earth (DTE) found that deaths due to road accidents are much more than those caused by, say, communicable diseases. The trauma centre of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, can handle only 15,000 cases a year. It received 60,000 patients in 2013. Data shows the number of patients has been rising by 10 per cent annually. Similarly, “In Nagpur, I have observed at least 10-15 per cent rise in road accidents,” says ChiragBhoj, head of the casualty department, IndiraGandhi Government Medical Collegeand Hospital in Nagpur. On an average, the hospital gets 20 accident cases every 24 hours. One-fourth of them are serious.
According to National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) figures, 137,432 people died in road accidents in 2013. This is about 40 per cent of the population of the Maldives. While communicable diseases (excluding HIV/AIDS) together killed 74,146 people, road accidents accounted for almost double that number. The majority were two-wheeler riders and pedestrians. A total of 34,187 people were on two-wheelers which accounted for 24.9 per cent of the deaths. Similarly, 12,385 pedestrians lost their lives because of others’ mistakes. Besides the fatalities, 469,900 people sustained injuries in 443,001 road accidents reported in 2013.
According to an analysis by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), over the last two decades, while the total number of accidents and injuries show a small dip, fatalities have increased sharply. The proportion of fatal accidents in all road accidents has increased from 18 per cent in 2003 to 25 per cent in 2012. Road accident deaths account for more than one-third of total accidental deaths, including suicides and rail-related accidents. Road injuries and deaths have seen a dramatic rise globally… If deaths due to road injuries and vehicular air pollution are combined, they exceed the tally from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria. Yet, road accidents hardly get the attention they deserve. They evoke some interest only when the annual NCRB data is released or when a high-profile person is the victim. Rural development minister Gopinanth Munde died in a road accident in Delhi on June 3 this year. The debates that the case generated have fizzled out. Even the members of Parliament seem to have forgotten their colleague’s death.
An analysis of parliamentary questions to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways between December 2009 and July 2014 show that of the total 4,090 questions on roads and highways, only 325 were on accidents. There are no innovative insurance schemes for accident victims. “Across the globe, the insurance sector actively works to help victims deal with the cost of accident. Unfortunately, in India this sector is dormant,” says Rohit Baluja, director of Institute of Road Traffic Education, which works on road safety.
Worse, India substantially under reports road injuries, says Rajendra Prasad, senior consultant neurosurgeon at Indraprastha ApolloHospitals and director of Indian Head Injury Foundation. “If someone suffers a road injury when drunk, he may not report it to the police,” he says. It is disturbing that road accidents kill more pedestrians, cyclists, people from the lower middleclass and the economically poor. Of all the deaths, pedestrians account for nine per cent…
A research done in 2004 for the non-profit Global Road Safety Partnership in Bengaluru has highlighted how road accidents push families towards financial crisis. Often, relatives of victims borrow money, sell assets, give up studies or take up extra work just to survive. The research concluded that 71 per cent of the urban poor and 53 per cent of the rural poor bereaved households were not poor before the accident… It is disconcerting that many road accident victims are either pedestrians or bicycle owners. About 14,000 cyclists have to use roads meant for heavy traffic as no space is designated for them.
Ill-equipped health sector
The health sector in the country is not equipped to handle the large number of accident victims…
The impact of road design on road safety is not well understood in India. Roads are being increasingly designed to allow seamless movement of vehicles at high speed, and not for safe access for people. There is now enough evidence to prove that car-centric road design phenomenally increases accident risk.
In most areas, well-designed and barrier-free footpaths are not available which force people to walk in sheer conflict with motorised vehicles on the road…
In India, criminal apathy towards road safety risk must stop. It is time to reserve space for walkers, cyclists and public transport users on roads. Urgent legal reforms are needed to comprehensively enforce safety guidelines to achieve zero fatality.India needs a Central legislation to notify the revised Indian RoadCongress guidelines and make its implementation mandatory across the country. Pre- and post-construction safety audits of roads must become mandatory for all road projects. All public transport plans must integrate plans on safety and accessibility of roads.
The Motor Vehicles Act and Rules need revision to reduce speed limit in cities to 30-40 km per hour and make penalties more stringent. Many cities have planned big investments for road safety. These must be effectively deployed to ensure surveillance of traffic violations, effectiveness of traffic calming measures and removal of encroachments on pavements. The need is to design cities for people, not vehicles.
(Reportage inputs from Alok Gupta in Bihar, M Suchitra in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, and Aparna Pallavi inMaharashtra).
– Excerpted from DTE
Driving home traffic rules
Education can usher a change in the way people behave on the road, says Prafull Joshi, resident of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, who is a PhD in Traffic Engineering and Education. In 2009, he launched non-profit Save Life Cycle with seven teachers and prepared a syllabus for traffic education with help from the police department. The teachers went to schools in different districts of the State and gave students lessons on road safety. He has already taught 600,000 people in the State, including police personnel, he says.
In 2005, the son of Maharaja of Jodhpur Gaj Singh suffered a serious head injury while playing polo. In the absence of a specialty hospital, Singh had to rush him to Mumbai and then to New York for treatment. He realised that only a handful can afford such treatment. So in 2007 he set up Indian Head Injury Foundation, a charitable institution that gives pre- and post-trauma care. Its centres in Jodhpur andDelhi have treated 1,000 patients so far. The centres have also trained more than 13,000 people as first responders.
All roads CSE audited were poor
Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) recently audited roads in the national capital that are most dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists. The researchers selected a total of 27 km of accident-prone roads on Mehrauli-Badarpur Road, Mathura Road, Ring Road, Outer Ring Road, VikasMarg and Noida Link Road and assessed them on the basis of their engineering and user-friendly design.
CSE found that all the roads audited scored from poor to very poor. Only 55 per cent of the roads have footpaths; they are constructed much higher than the standard 150 mm on all locations except for some areas in Vikas Marg. So bus users prefer to come down on the road and climb the vehicle. Many bus stops are constructed on the footpath itself. Cycle tracks exist on only 10 per cent of the roads.
All the roads surveyed have been ranked poor on the environmental front, amenities and aesthetics.Mehrauli-Badarpur Road, Noida Link Road and VikasMarg have only a handful of public toilets. These, too, either remain locked or are badly maintained. Besides, the roads can become a challenge to negotiate for the differently-abled people.