India is facing severe problems in terms of deteriorating road safety. To throw some light on the gravity of the situation, here is a real-world hoary statistic – 16 people were killed every hour in 2015 due to road accidents in the country, which amounted to roughly 400 deaths every day.
According to the provisional data released by the government, the total number of road fatalities stood at 146,000 in 2015. Compared to 2014, which saw 141,526 road accident deaths, the number in 2015 has increased by around 3%.
It would not be wrong to say that every rural or urban Indian citizen, in his/her circle of family, friends or even acquaintances, would know of at least one person who has died in a road accident. Road accidents are turning out to be one of the major contributors to the loss of lives in developing nations, and India tops that list.
The major causes that contribute to road accidents are over-speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, dangerous or careless driving, dilapidated road infrastructure and poor weather conditions.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), which has termed the ongoing decade (2011-2020) as the decade of action for road safety, had come out with key findings in its report titled ‘Saving millions of lives’ in the past. This report highlighted that road traffic crashes take the lives of nearly 1.3 million people globally every year, and injure 20-50 million more.
It points out that while this has become a leading cause of death for people aged 15-29 years, over 90 percent of road traffic accidents and injuries occur in low-income and middle-income countries, which have 48% of the world’s registered vehicle population.
Government targets 50% reduction in fatalities by 2020
As a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration, India is committed to reduce the number of road accidents and fatalities by 50% by 2020. Another factor which makes road safety highly important is that the road transport sector, which bears 75% of the total load of passenger and freight transportation, contributes close to 4.5% to the country’s GDP. The sector however suffers from archaic rules and practices and needs urgent reforms to support the high growth rates of Indian economy.
The Road Transport and Safety Bill was brought by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) to strengthen road safety as well as improve ease of transport across the country. However, the ground reality remains anything but safe. In order to ensure road safety there is an urgent need to make legislative changes, faster implementation of the amended Motor Vehicles Act and make optimal use of technology to cut down delays. Moreover, Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari recently called for a sharper focus on road safety, recognizing the fact that there is a need to work on reducing accidents and road fatalities with the rectification work at identified ‘black spots’ in urgent need to be speeded up. That apart, he also mentioned the need to work on roadside amenities on waste lands.
Considering the rising number of fatalities, the government has constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) to guide reforms for the road transport sector. The GoM, headed by Yunus Khan, minister for Transport, Rajasthan and comprising state transport ministers, had conducted a preparatory meeting of principle secretaries of transport of states and transport commissioners in New Delhi on April 22, 2016. They are scheduled to meet again for the same in New Delhi on April 30, 2016.
The agenda of the meeting will be to find solutions to the various problems plaguing the road transport sector in the country so as to improve road safety and facilitate ease of transport. Among other issues, the focus points for deliberations are likely to be how to deal with non-motorised transport on roads like pedestrians and cyclists or non-road vehicles plying on public places; testing for issue of driving licences which would include discussion on having a unified driving licence, use of automation, mandatory driver training, rationalisation of categories and periodicity for license renewal.
Grant of fitness for transport vehicles is another subject on the agenda and would include issues like reviewing periodicity of vehicle fitness in view of better technology, introduction of automation in vehicle fitness, third party fitness testing by dealers or other authorised service stations. Deliberations will also be held on framing rules of road regulations and increase in penalties for traffic violations, with a part of the penalty collected going into improvement of traffic management. Also, discussions will be held on simplification of forms and linking with the Aadhar card for bio-metric verification, making forms online, inclusion of accidental insurance cover for commercial drivers in third party insurance scheme and removing provisions regarding dress code for drivers.
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