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Making road journeys safer

The onset of winter brings a veiled warning of a rise in road fatalities. Dense fog enveloping the national highways

road journeys

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  20 Nov 2020 2:53 AM GMT

The onset of winter brings a veiled warning of a rise in road fatalities. Dense fog enveloping the national highways and other roads escalate the road accidents in winter months. The National Crime Records Bureau data show that among all the north-eastern states, Assam recorded the highest road accident deaths of 3245 in 2019. Tripura followed the state in the second position with 271 traffic accident deaths. The road accidents declined during January to June this year compared to the corresponding period in 2019. Official data show that the decline was by 27 per cent during this period. The decline was to the tune of 51 per cent during April to June as compared to the corresponding period in 2019. The fewer accidents this year can be attributed to lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in road accident fatalities in the state, therefore, must not allow any room for complacency. Reporting of road accidents recorded an increase as more traffic hit the roads after the state gradually unlocked and all restrictions were eased. The NCRB data also brought to light that two-wheelers accounted for 41 per cent of road fatalities in 2019. Over speeding, careless driving, and dangerous overtaking, talking on mobile phones while driving are the primary reasons behind two-wheelers accounting for such high road accident fatalities in the state. The Central government informed the parliament that around 71 per cent of total 4.49 lakh road accidents in 2019 were due to over speeding. The state Transport Department running short of required manpower to enforce the motor vehicles and safety rules on erring drivers is another factor behind rising road fatalities in the state. In a bid to reduce road accidents, Motor Vehicle Act, 2019 stipulates that mobile phones shall be only used for the purpose of route navigation in a way that driver's attention is not affected. The new rules notified by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways came into effect on October 1. Awareness drive by the State Transport Department on the new rules is also critical to ensure road safety. Setting up of the Road Safety Lead Agency in the Commissionerate of Transport in the state to carry out various tasks related to road safety is expected to improve the situation. The Road Safety Lead Agency has been tasked to work as a nodal agency to coordinate among various departments regarding road safety, capacity building of various stakeholders, carry out Information Education and Communication activities, data gathering and analysis of crash data and also provide support to District Road Safety Committees for handling road safety issues. Scientific analysis of crash data is essential to formulate the right strategies of road safety measures. While total road accidents in the country have declined after 2015, the fatalities in the accidents have increased. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture recommended that the Ministry may make efforts to cover the entire country under its driver training programmes, in the light of the "poor driving habits of the average road user across the country". The Committee asked the Ministry to explore the possibility of utilizing the Local Area Development Fund of the Members of Parliament to carry out the driver training programmes in the respective constituencies of Members of Parliament. The Committee further recommends that road stretches where fatal accidents take place due to bad condition of road or poor road design, sign boards may be put up as a precautionary measure and necessary remedial action may be taken. Poor maintenance of national highways is one of the contributing factors behind rise in road accident fatalities. "The Committee feels that one of the major reasons behind road accidents is the poor condition of roads. Presence of potholes can prove to be fatal, even more so in the rainy season," states the report. The Committee's report also brought to light slow pace of highway construction work in Northeast region despite higher allocation. The length of road constructed in the region dropped to 500 km in 2019-20 up to January 2020 against 1028 km in 2018-19. The Committee also noted "sharp dismay" over drop in expenditure from Rs. 5944 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 2931 crore in 2019-20. "The Committee would like to know the reasons behind the near-halving of pace of construction and expenditure in the region," the report adds. Rise in fatal road accidents which also results in disabling of a large number of citizens is a major public health hazard. It creates extra and avoidable burden on public and private hospitals, emergency health response system as beds are occupied for long period leading to deprivation of required medical attention of a large number of citizens suffering from various ailments. Ambulance service also gets diverted by accidents. Awareness on road safety is the key to this problem.

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