Road design needs to be improved to prevent accidents: Harish Baijal, Ex-DIG of Maharashtra police
From an enforcement perspective, let's trace the repeated lawbreakers and cancel their license so that they are not able to drive anywhere in India but also in the world, says Baijal.
Harish Baijal, a former Deputy Inspector General of the Maharashtra Police, has called for a comprehensive approach to road safety in India. He said that the country needs to improve driver education, create safer road designs, and enact stricter licensing laws. He also said that vehicle manufacturers should be more proactive in incorporating safety features into their vehicles.
Baijal's comments come at a time when India is facing a major road safety crisis. On Indian roads, at least one person dies every three minutes, and the usual suspects—such as over speeding, drunken driving, driving on the wrong side and failing to wear a seat belt or a helmet—along with bad road planning and potholes are emerging as major contributors, transport ministry data suggests.
The rising number of traffic accidents—4,12,432 overall and the resulting 1,53,972 deaths—a spike of 16.9% during 2021 over the previous year comes out as a cause for concern at a time when the Indian government has been raising vehicle safety standards with mandates like that of mandatory airbags, anti-braking systems (ABS), and combined braking systems (CBS), as well as the Bharat New Car Assessment Program. Worryingly, the percentage of deaths compared to the total number of accidents has been steadily increasing over the past five years. It increased by 28.3%, 29%, 29.5%, 30.7%, and 34.5% during 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively, as the latest available data from the Ministry of Road Transportation & Highways (MoRT&H) indicates.
Baijal while speaking at a panel discussion during Autocar Professional’s Road Safety Conclave said, "From an enforcement perspective, let's trace the repeated lawbreakers and cancel their license so that they are not able to drive anywhere in India but also in the world".
Alluding to the fact that just about 1-2% of license applications get rejected in a metropolis like Mumbai, he added that it says a lot about the seriousness with which they get issued. As per his estimates, an official in charge at the Road Transport Office (RTO) often has to clear about 40–50 applications per day, which frighteningly translates to just about 1.5–2 minutes per application on average. "We need to stop looking at the driver/rider licensing system as a revenue-generating machine,” he added.
Baijal, who is credited with bringing strict action on drunk driving to the country's enforcement radar while in charge of the traffic department in Mumbai, around 2007, stated that flaws in road designs are also a key contributing factor leading to road accidents. Citing the example of the Western and Eastern Express Highways, two important arterial roads passing through Mumbai, he highlighted that initially there were barely any bridges or subways connecting the sides of the roads. The interesting part is that the few bridges, which came only in recent years, were apparently built at the request of advertising companies wanting to put up their billboards and not for public safety, Baijal further explained.
Baijal is of the opinion that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can also play a big role in making passenger safety aspects a priority. He suggested that once the license issuance becomes stricter and brings down the passing percentage to, say, 50%, it will start having a crippling effect on vehicle demand. The vehicle manufacturers would then proactively start incorporating safety features into their vehicles.
"Education-wise, 30–40% of road crashes can be avoided if we can learn to use the rear-view mirror in the right way". As per Baijal, corporations, including insurance companies, can do their bit to educate people about safer mobility. Furthermore, Baijal, who remains active on road safety issues through association with an NGO, claims to have started an educational campaign. What the volunteers do, as part of the campaign is move their index finger whenever they see someone breaking traffic rules. "Even if one person out of ten realises her or his mistake and takes corrective action, then it will still help in reducing the number of road accidents," he stated.
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