Rising Road Accidents and Fatalities in India
Nitin Gadkari is our longest serving Road Transport and Highways Minister, and for the last nine years has been saying he will reduce road accidents by half. The first target was to do this by 2019 and now Gadkari says this will happen by 2024, which is just around the corner. The government has recently also suggested it could be 2020! While I commend Gadkari for taking up this much needed cause and compliment him for his efforts to try and make it happen, the reality is quite different. The government recently released a report on "Road Accidents in India-2022", which says over 1, 68, 000 people died in road fatalities! That is one road accident death every three minutes in 2022!
In this report Nitin Gadkari writes, "It is indeed a matter of great concern that despite the continuous efforts of the government in this regard and our commitments for halving fatalities, we have not been able to register significant progress on this front". An official statement from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways says that this report underscores the urgency of adopting a comprehensive approach to address the contributing factors to these accidents, including speeding, reckless driving, drunken driving, and non-compliance with traffic regulations.
Gadkari should be applauded for admitting that they have not been able to make progress and the ministry's statement also shows that it knows what the problems are. And it's a fact that while the quality of our roads and motor vehicles have improved tremendously, driving discipline and following of traffic rules has seen a drastic reduction. As per the government's report about 71.2 percent deaths were due to over speeding and losing control; 5.4 percent are attributed to wrong side driving and violation of lane driving rules; 2.5 percent due to drunken driving or consumption of drugs; 2 percent because of using mobile phones while driving; 0.8 percent accidents were the result of breaking red lights and about 18 percent deaths due to other reasons like not wearing seatbelts or helmets, falling asleep behind the wheel, overtaking on blind turns, and so on.
Interestingly, about 60.5 percent of the road fatalities happened on our highways with around 68% of the deaths taking place in rural areas. Two wheeler riders accounted for 44.5 percent of the deaths, while pedestrians were the second-largest group, with 19.5% of fatalities. These figures are very revealing because they clearly indicate that vehicles are driven more rashly on our highways as there is hardly any policing there. And whatever police you see are only there to check papers and collect bribes. In my 40 plus years of driving on our highways in which I must have covered more than 15 lakh kilometers, I have never ever seen anyone ever being stopped or fined for breaking traffic rules or driving rashly. And since there is no enforcement of traffic rules or road discipline, everyone does as they please.
It's been reported that the majority of deaths took place in rural areas. I see two reasons for this. One that the medical facilities and trauma care in our rural areas is very limited as is the availability of ambulances and medical staff. Secondly there are hardly any driving schools or RTO's (Regional Transport Offices) in rural areas. So our rural folk rarely get any formal driver training and many don't even have licenses, because they do not feel the need to go get them from the bigger towns and cities.
Please also note that the vast majority who died were on two-wheelers. This is understandable because two-wheelers provide the least physical protection. But what is not acceptable is that most two wheeler users in our country do not wear helmets! I will also stick my neck out and bet that a large number of two-wheeler riders in rural India don't have a license and nor do they know basic rules or the technical aspects of riding. Most just learn from relatives or friends or by watching others.
And once they get onto a two-wheeler they are free to race around and do as they please, which often results in accidents and loss of life. It is also true that modern two-wheelers are quite peppy and easy to ride, which increases the chances of losing control if you are not disciplined and well trained. And electric two-wheelers with their instant torque and zippy response are only escalating the problem of wayward and rash riders.
Road safety and fatalities are major problems facing our nation and they have a huge social, emotional and also economic impact. But sadly the only politician you hear talking about this all important issue is Nitin Gadkari. Most other politicians, be they from the ruling party or opposition, hardly ever speak of this. As for our citizens, it seems hardly anyone cares, other than those who unfortunately have lost a loved one in a road accident, or been injured.
It's almost like if you have a vehicle or are going out onto a road, it's taken for granted that accidents will happen. This is part of life, it's your karma. Just look at our pedestrians. How many walk on zebra crossings or even look on both sides before crossing a road. Instead of looking, they run across and try to race ahead of vehicles. Nobody cares. And as long as this attitude does not change, I sadly do not see our road accidents or fatalities coming down anytime soon.