Arnab Bandyopadhyay, Lead Transport Specialist and Dipan Bose, Transport
Specialist, World Bank,tell Rouhan Sharma India needs to pay greater attention to the needs of vulnerable road users, like has been done in developed countries.
What are the engineering issues due to which India compromises on road safety?
Engineering issues in road safety management pertain to two main areas, i.e. road infrastructure safety and vehicle safety. In the context of the former, where the returns on safety investments are relatively high, the best practice would be to undertake road safety inspection and audits right from the planning phase. This should be extended subsequently, intervening at each stage of the design, construction, operational and maintenance phase of the project. In India, the high-risk roads are the highways -û both national and state - and the challenges lie in meeting the functional needs of the road. These include mixed-traffic problems, movement on cross-roads/intersections, facilities for non-motorized users, treatments for road-side hazards and making adequate investments in crash mitigation treatment. This involves updating the road codes and design standards based on their suitability with the local traffic conditions and usage. Such holistic assessment of safety, being undertaken on new construction roads will require time to improve performance on the overall network.
Vehicle safety standards in the country, mainly controlled by the private sector, still lags behind the UN global standards which apply to both new and current fleet. There is discussion on phased roll out of crash-worthiness testing of all new and used vehicles in the coming years to address these issues. In addition, India also needs good programmes for vehicle safety inspection for periodic maintenance of private and commercial vehicles.
When the government invites bids for roads construction, what can be done to ensure that adequate emphasis is placed on safety needs of vulnerable road users? Do these specifications need to be mandated in the tender bid document?
Safety needs for vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bicyclists are a critical dimension of road safety. Norms and legislation regarding the specifications in a tender bid document vary from country to country, and even within countries. It has been correctly pointed out that the requirements for the vulnerable road users and facilities need to be mandated within the bidding documents/concession agreements with specifications laid out in detail. In a highly mixed traffic situation, it is imperative to provide adequate segregation of pedestrians, cyclists and slower moving vehicles from the cars and heavy commercial vehicles. To achieve improved safety for all road users, facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists should be integrated right at the planning stage. In most developed countries, there is greater attention to the needs of vulnerable road users, but there is always more that can be done to improve road safety in a holistic way, particularly for vulnerable road users.
How urgent would you say is it for the Indian government to conduct a road safety design audit to improve existing roads?
For the government to undertake design-stage road safety audit as well as at other stages is very important. The audit process leads an independent assessment and evaluation of the road safety issues which goes beyond meeting the technical and design standards but provides holistic interpretation based on the traffic use, observed speeds and other relevant factors. In the context of India where functional requirements for the roads can be significantly different from the design standards, the process of road safety audit provides an instrument to manage the safety risks.
Are road safety design audits even conducted on the new roads being built? Is this a practice in developed countries?
We cannot speak for all road builders around the world, but all World Bank-funded road projects in India and other countries normally undergo a road safety audit even if those are being built anew. In India, in fact we have started using both manual audits and also the automated safety assessment (audit) using the IRAP methodology for both newly built and widened roads.
Currently, there isn´t a national policy to separate vulnerable road users or to promote non-motorized transport. Would you say there is a lack of collective sensitivity on these important issues? What would you attribute this to?
As we have seen in the public version of the new Road Safety Bill under discussion, the government is prioritising the importance of vulnerable road users and their safety concerns. There is now a collective sensitivity that vulnerable road users may account for up to half of overall road deaths in India. Significant improvements and prioritisation are needed if the country is to make substantive progress in reducing road fatalities and injuries.
The lack of sensitivity mainly arises from how roads and highways were traditionally designed with focus on motorised traffic in mind. This also relates to importing designs and concepts from developed countries but not adopting them to the local needs such as making provisions for pedestrians and motorcyclists. Over the past years, pedestrian and other vulnerable road user deaths have been blamed on the negligence of the drivers or accidental incidents. However, attributing the cause to the overall design of the road system wasn´t done.
Over the recent years, national and state policies are now giving more strategic importance to the vulnerable road users and associated risk factors such as speed management and segregation.
Is it more important to conduct awareness campaigns in middle and low-income countries like India given the rapid urbanisation and growth in population?
Awareness campaigns in countries like India are important, but it must be realised that they are only one aspect of an integral strategy for improving road safety. Increasing road safety is a challenge that goes beyond awareness raising or advocacy. It requires a holistic approach: safer cars, safer road designs, more effective emergency post-crash response, well-funded and managed road safety agencies, stronger enforcement of road safety regulations, and a fundamental change of behaviour in motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. In fact, best practices indicate that awareness campaigns work best when coupled with an intervention like an enforcement plan or making road infrastructure modifications.
Do you believe that stronger legislation that is shortly expected in India can go some way in improving road safety?
Stronger legislation and regulations will be an important step forward for the country with regards to issues with road safety. Provisions under the new draft legislation, which is in the public domain, calls for institutional reforms to establish lead agencies to own and manage road safety in the country. Overall, the legislations puts emphasis on critical topics not addressed previously like vulnerable road users, improving infrastructure and vehicle safety standards and public transport. With that, it must be understood that expeditious implementation and enforcement of the legislation is equally critical to the success of improving road safety.