We travel in order to reach our destinations; we do not travel to die. Yet, that is exactly what 1.3 million road travelers do every year - die! It is unbelievable, but true - that globally, road traffic injuries claim more than 1.3 million lives each year and have a huge impact on health and development. In fact, this is the leading cause of death among young people aged between 15 and 29 years, and costs governments around the world approximately 3 per cent of GDP. This may even be up to 5 per cent in cases of low and middle-income countries. In India, the scenario is no better if we consider these fatalities as a ratio of number of inhabitants. Our home country statistics will be worse off, if we were to look at fatalities per billion vehicle-km, which seems to be the right performance measure for assessing the state of road safety. With only less than 3 per cent of the world's vehicles, we have the dubious record of notching up more than 10 per cent of global road deaths. Minister for Roads and Highways Nitin Gadkari is on record saying, 'More people are killed in road accidents in India than anywhere else in the world. The national toll averages 1.3 lakh people in five lakh mishaps every year.' This is not a good distinction to flaunt, and obviously the situation needs urgent remedies. Thankfully, the government is alive to this issue, and is acting purposefully and decisively.
World over, road transportation happens to be the most unsafe, in relative terms, compared to other modes of travel like air, rail or sea. Someone once said that we are nineteen times safer in a plane in the air, than in a car on the road, and with all the statistics quoted above, this sounds true. What makes road travel unsafe, particularly in India? According to Gadkari: 'Main factors responsible for road accidents are drivers' fault, poor condition of vehicles, pedestrians' fault and weather conditions. Also, faulty road engineering, lack of road information, inadequate planning for pedestrian crossings and underpasses are important reasons for road accidents.' Another approach to analysing road safety performance says India needs vision, goal-setting and political will for execution. This is required if it has to even go near the target set by the United Nations, which is to reduce road fatalities by 50 per cent within 2020.
Surprisingly, there is some kind of class distinction in road safety as well! The highly vulnerable groups in road deaths are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, and these road users constitute 50 to 80 per cent of the recorded fatalities. Therefore, the safety needs of these groups of people have to be addressed with utmost priority. Drunk driving, over-speeding, lack of seatbelt and child restraint use as well as lack of helmet use have been collectively identified as major causes of injuries. Some of these root causes are very relevant for vulnerable road users.
Certainly, road safety requires better road infrastructure, better road regulations, better vehicles with improved safety features, better driving training and stringent driver licensing regime, strong implementation of rules, including faster delivery of justice for offenders as a deterrent, and many more concrete measures, all of which can only be driven by political will to overcome vested interests. We do hope this government is able to do all this. In addition, post-accident interventions will be greatly facilitated and fatalities reduced, if we can increase the number of well-equipped trauma centres along our highways, and also introduce the Good Samaritan law to prevent harassment to citizens who volunteer to help accident victims.