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Scrutiny
 
ROADS: WEAK LAWS
Better Born in China & wed in UK!
The Indian Record in Road Safety is only moving from Bad to Worse. And while The Infrastructure Challenge is Daunting Enough, Addressing it alone will not be Enough
Issue Date - 17/02/2011
 
Indian roads are the most commonly used modes of transport, but certainly do not seem to be safe. In fact, Indian lives appear to be very cheap, considering how the death toll due to road accidents is a statistic oft ignored. If the World Health Organisation is to be believed, India tops among all Southeast Asian nations in terms of annual road accident deaths. Of the 288,768 who died in 2009 in Asia due to road accidents, almost 73% of the cases (210,800) belonged to India. The National Crime Record Bureau of the Indian government has a completely contrasting figure of only 122,640 deaths in 2009. Yet, imagine, accident deaths were only 15,000 in 1971. Even in 2008, the figure was just 118,000.

Interestingly, while China overtook India in terms of the volume of automobile sales, India overtook China in 2006 in terms of the death count due to road mishaps. The number of road fatalities in China saw a fall to 73,500 in 2008 and this is despite the fact that the volume of automobile sales in China has increased by many times. However, the cost is not confined to human lives only. The economic loss of street accidents is over Rs.500 billion. These facts should be testimony enough to India’s vulnerable road transport and inefficient traffic management system and the need to make it an issue of national priority. However, it doesn’t mean that India is doing nothing. The ministry has proposed a new National Road Safety and Traffic Management Bill, 2010 to the Parliament, which is still pending. More roads and highways that are being constructed certainly will help, even if they consistently fall behind schedule. But there are many other areas where the government can take stiff action to actually cure the disease.

Firstly, driving licenses are very easy to obtain in India, as compared to countries like UK. In fact, getting married in UK is easier than getting a commercial driving license. People celebrate when they obtain a driving license in UK. The person has to answer a total of 100 questions correctly a apart from a rigorous driving test to get the license. In India, even if one doesn’t meet the license criteria, Rs.1500 is supposed to do the job quite fine.

Secondly, Indian laws are quite lenient. Rarely are drivers sent to jail for causing accidents, leave alone for driving without licenses. In most of the developed world, the reality of imprisonment is enough to dissuade people from attempting such behaviour. Thirdly, pedestrians are never given due respect on Indian streets. A large percentage of the people who die in accidents are among pedestrians (yes, cyclists and bikers too). In Europe and other developed nations, pedestrians and cyclists are given supremely more importance than car owners. Pedestrians in such countries almost always have the right of way. In India, a pedestrian attempting to cross the road is shooed and honked away in a manner similar to how cattle would be driven away.

Undoubtedly, all these apparent ills can be corrected in one shot if, and only if, the respective state governments have a sledgehammer approach to forcing automobile owners to behave, not just on the road but also with respect to the strictest adherence to traffic laws. There is no reason why the government cannot do this!

 

IIPM Think Tank           

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