The three ‘Es’ of safety

While education and driver training are the fundamentals to ensure safety of road users, experts suggest that there is a need for robust road engineering, as well as stricter enforcement of laws.

Autocar Pro News Desk By Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 11 Jun 2023 Views icon8366 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

India lost more than 1,55,600 lives in road crashes in 2022, the second highest ever. Last year, the unfortunate road accident causing the death of Cyrus Mistry, one of India’s renowned business leaders, reignited a debate around the poor state of India’s roads, identified by the World Bank as the world’s deadliest.

The United Nations (UN) and many other international, regional, and national organisations have over the years called for action to tackle the 'ubiquitous but invisible' global road safety crisis, which in turn has increased consumer awareness and brought about tighter regulatory requirements for vehicle safety.

The second day of the Autocar Professional Road Safety Conclave focused on discussing solutions around the fundamental challenges, such as lack of lane discipline, poor usage of helmets and seatbelts, unmarked speed breakers, and weak law enforcement, that result in a glaring number of accidents, and fatalities on our roads on a day-to-day basis. In an hour-long discussion, industry leaders and road safety experts unanimously stated that an all-encompassing approach is a must to alleviate the basic problems that result in life-threatening events on the roads.

Catch 'em young
Focusing on the elementary aspect — education to enhance road safety, PK Banerjee, Chief Executive Director, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), pointed out that road crash-related fatalities and injuries cost a loss of 3-4 percent of India's annual GDP, and the most impacted are vulnerable road users — two-wheeler riders, and pedestrians — falling in the 25-45-year age bracket.

"Therefore, education, engineering, and enforcement (as well as emergency care) are vital for safer mobility. SIAM has been at the forefront of different initiatives to help improve the road safety scenario in the country. SIAM's nationwide initiative 'Surakshit Safar' which was launched during the Auto Expo 2023, recognises the importance of vehicle engineering and educating the youth on road safety parameters."

"Along with the MoRTH and Ministry of Education, we are planning to embark upon a nine-module system for primary, secondary, and middle-school students, with an aim to teach them the critical aspects of road safety such as use of helmets, seatbelts, and the Good Samaritan law. We are interacting with various state governments to implement this awareness campaign," Banerjee added.

Engineering and enforcement key
Karuna Raina, Director, Public Policy & Research, SaveLIFE Foundation, said, “Since 2015, under our flagship programme — Zero Fatality Corridor Project — we have been adopting dangerous highways across the country, and suggesting re-engineering measures to make them safer. Before suggesting any redesign, our idea is to first collect data to ascertain the reasons behind the accidents. We audit roads not just against the Indian Roads Congress (IRC) guidelines but also against international guidelines, and after identifying the gaps, we propose changes to the relevant government authorities.”

“We have adopted highways in 15 states and also identified high-fatality stretches of highways in Maharashtra, UP, Assam, and Odisha to see how engineering and enforcement measures can be implemented to ensure reduction in accidents,” Raina added.

Harish Baijal, former Deputy Inspector General of the Maharashtra Police, said that the country needs to improve driver education, create safer road designs to aid the safety of motorists as well as pedestrians, and enact stricter licensing laws. He also suggested that vehicle manufacturers must proactively incorporate safety features into their vehicles, and ideally, also follow a mandatory driver training practice during the sale of a new vehicle. “A few initiatives on our part can make a huge difference. Maharashtra lost around 15,000 lives last year, and if a sizable portion of the amount borne by insurance companies in claim settlement is spent on educating new drivers, it could make a huge difference. One effective method to strictly enforce the law is to cancel the driving licenses of repeat offenders,” Baijal said.

Focus on driver training, unbiased assessment
With nearly 80 percent of road accidents in India occurring due to driver error, with most people being clueless about the right of way, driver education and driving practice form the foundation of the pyramid of road safety.

According to Naresh Raghvan, Road Safety Author, and US-Trained Defensive Driver, “It is a mindset shift that needs to come along, where parents must tell their kids about learning driving rules before giving them keys to the vehicle. A well-trained defensive driver is capable of driving safely in any traffic conditions, and type of road, at any time of the day. There is a lot that can improve with the operator being aware of the limits of the vehicle, as well as having the right judgement when it comes to driving on the roads,” he added.

With respect to enforcement, Raghvan mentioned that there are too many people breaking traffic laws in India at any given point in time, and therefore, it is impossible for the enforcement authorities to penalise each violator. It is here that the role of technology comes in and according to Kartick Nagpal, President, Rosmerta Technologies, "The Integrated Traffic Management System (ITMS) and HSRP number plates are helping authorities issue e-challans for traffic violations, particularly over-speeding, which is the leading cause of traffic accidents and fatalities."

Nagpal stressed upon the importance of unbiased assessment of driver skills when a new applicant applies for a driving license. “With over 1,100 RTOs in the country issuing almost 1 crore driver licenses every year, the driver licensing regime in India currently requires significant improvements. Although the CMVR Rule 15 requires one to have a certain level of driving skills, and knowledge of traffic laws before applying for a driving license, not many states are following these regulations.

“Having said that, we are optimistic about the change coming in various states like Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, which have started adopting the automated driving test track (ADTT) scheme. As per statistics, the pass-rate for driving license applicants in Mumbai stood at 99.5 percent a couple of years ago, whereas at the six ADTTs being operated by Rosmerta Technologies in Delhi, the average pass-rate is 65 percent. Therefore, automating the testing part will go a long way in making our roads safer,” Nagpal said.

The panellists alluded to the need for a comprehensive, all-encompassing approach, starting with citizen awareness and education about the best driving practices, to robust driver training and evaluation process, along with strong road engineering, to drive road safety in India. Basic initiatives by all stakeholders, including vehicle OEMs, private corporations, insurance companies, government authorities, and the public at large, could go a long way in solving the fundamental challenges on Indian roads, where simple habit formations such as the proper use of rear-view mirrors, hold potential to avoid as much as 40 percent road accidents.

A technical presentation — Validation of ADAS systems for Indian scenarios and conditions — was made by Ramanathan Srinivasan, Managing Director, Automotive Test Systems. The focus was on the need to adapt and validate the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies for the Indian road and traffic conditions.

This feature was first published in Autocar Professional's June 1, 2023 issue.

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