Road safety

When it comes to the country’s killer roads, none could have put it better than Union Minister for Road and Transport Nitin Gadkari when he lamented in a recent interview that more people have died in road accidents ‘than in all the wars India has fought’. Despite addition of 2 lakh km to road infrastructure, the number of vehicles is increasing faster, necessitating a massive overhaul of the traffic system, Gadkari has pointed out. In particular, he is pushing for amendments to the ‘outdated’ Motor Vehicle Act, and is scheduled to take it up in the cabinet this month itself before going to Parliament with his proposals. Admitting his embarrassment at 30 percent of driving licenses in the country being bogus, the minister has said that unless stiff pelties are imposed on traffic violators, road safety norms will never be taken seriously. Significantly, he has acknowledged that corruption exists, promising a computerized system to automatically inform about violations and fines to be paid digitally, so that ‘interface with officials’ is reduced to a minimum. The minister’s concern is understandable, considering the latest data released by tiol Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Statistics show that the number of road accidents at 4,64,000 in 2015 was 3 percent more than in 2014; in four years from 2011 to 2015, the number of deaths from road accidents rose 9 percent to 1,48,000. It is nothing less than a public health mece for which the country loses 1-3 percent of its GDP every year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has rated India’s performance as 4 out of 10 on car drivers wearing seat belts, motorcyclists donning helmets and drunken driving, and an even lower 3 out of 10 on enforcing speed limits. While overspeeding, dangerous driving, bad weather and mechanical defects were the major causes for road mishaps and fatalities, 33 percent deaths occurred on tiol highways and 28 percent on state highways. Gadkari has been highlighting the problem of ‘black spots’, highly accident prone road stretches due to defects in design. Rs 11,000 crore has been earmarked under ‘Pradhan Manthri Surakshit Sadak Yoja’ to make design changes in 786 such black spots identified on tiol highways. In Assam, ‘black spots’ took centre-stage at a Road Safety Council meet last month, with Transport Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary calling for adequate measures to identify, rectify and monitor dangerous road stretches. The meet also focused upon proper signs, markings and lighting to help drivers negotiate these stretches, as well as shifting liquor shops and distracting hoardings away from highways. The traffic police needs to have a zero tolerance policy to drunken driving, overloading and overspeeding, jumping red lights and lack of safety gear. And the State government must push for computerized and digital traffic administration to check corrupt traffic cops. The sooner these steps are taken, the better — for Assam is losing around 7,000 lives a year on average due to road accidents, as Patowary pointed out last month. Many road fatalities would have been avoidable, had past governments been proactive in setting up strategically located trauma centres across the State. Civil hospitals simply lacked the facilities to tackle such emergency cases, and many cases urgently referred to Guwahati or Dibrugarh ended with death on the way. It speaks volumes that a trauma centre is slated be operatiol at lbari only early this year. Medical experts have pointed out that around half the road accidents in Assam result in fatalities, which is far higher than the tiol average. To put the matter in perspective, most of the dead are in the productive working age group, so the State is paying a very high human price on this front.

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Sentinel Assam