By Anwesha Dhar:
Early on 25th July 2014, news channels and websites aired the tragic but hardly unfamiliar news. A school bus had collided with a train near Hyderabad and the accident claimed lives of at least 20 children who were on their way to school. While it is an extremely tragic piece of news, it hardly managed to shock me as it did many others. This is because I myself, like many others, have seen the Indian traffic system very closely. Incidentally, a few weeks back, I almost had a near death experience in the same city.
A couple of my friends and I were in a bus, travelling from the resort we were staying at. The bus, sandwiched between an auto and another bus with impatient honking drivers, stopped in the middle of the road and announced that we had reached our destination. While I was managing my suitcase, another auto wheezed past me. It was then that I realised that he was not the only one. It was the same, sad realization that reinstated itself in my mind today. This is not a singular incident. The issue of road accidents, resultant trauma and lack of road safety is rampant but is conveniently swept under the carpet as not an ‘important enough issue’. I fail to understand- how is it anything but a matter that seeks immediate attention?
Every year, close to 1,40,000 people die in road accidents and almost 5,00,000 are injured. We talk about road safety quite often in theory, but at the core of the issue, is that we do not have laws that are robust enough to regulate safety in the country. Aspects like driver licensing and training, regulation of Heavy Motor Vehicles like trucks, buses and vans, design and engineering of roads and vehicles and mandatory safety equipment like helmets and seat belts are completely missing. Thus, it doesn’t come as a surprise that India records the highest number of deaths by road accidents in the world.
However, the problem is much more nuanced than this. According to SaveLIFE Foundation, “The causes for India’s exceptionally high number of crashes include bad road user behaviour, flawed road design and engineering, weak enforcement of traffic laws and the lack of rapid trauma care. The sole statute governing Road Safety in India, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MVA) has proved ineffective in addressing any of the aforementioned issues decisively.” In the absence of any strong law, or virtually, any law at all, millions of citizens of the country reel under a high chance of facing a road accident every second of the day. As many as 15 people are killed in India every hour due to road accidents. In the past one decade, over 1 million people have died in India due to road accidents and a massive 5 million people were seriously injured or permanently disabled. The lack of adequate regulations to protect children has also put thousands of school children in danger, who rely on public transportation, car pool or school buses to travel. Research has shown that 20 children of less than 14 years die every hour in India because of a road accident. In fact, road accidents are the single biggest killer of young people between the ages of 15 and 45. It is an issue that costs India 3% of its GDP annually.
The delay in amending the current Act or envisaging new acts has disastrously led to an increase in fatal accidents by 5.8%. Save Life Foundation thus is actively propagating with the government to enact an effective law for road safety. According to the organization, “The need of the hour, therefore, is a comprehensive National Road Safety Law that addresses transparent, centralized and efficient driver’s licensing system, mandatory safe driving training for all, stringent punishment for drunk-driving and over-speeding, violation of helmet and seat-belt laws, punishment for faulty road design and engineering, Good Samaritan protection etc.”
India is a country where most of the population is dependent on the roads, either in vehicles or as pedestrians. Sweeping issues such as these, under the carpet by blaming each other without taking a much needed step for improving the situation puts more and more lives in danger, every hour of the day.