The future of road safety in India

Traffic at the Marathahalli – Sarjapur Outer Ring Road

 

Consider these recent headlines from our local newspapers… 

March 2 2014:  A 37-year-old architect and urban planner was killed when a BMTC bus collided head-on with her car

March 16 2014:  Two people were killed after a speeding truck rammed into the motorbike they were riding on Kundalahalli Main Road

April 8 2014: A 30-year-old call centre employee died on the spot when he sustained serious head injuries in a hit-and-run accident on Hosur Road

In the past 3 months alone, Bangalore has been witness to 1309 accidents which have claimed the lives of 187 people. Does this mean that by the end of the year, the city may record close to 4000 more accidents? Or is it time that we looked at these incidents as somnt ething that needs to stop, as soon as possible? According to Dr Gururaj from NIMHANS, 30 to 35% of road accident related deaths take place at the scene of the accident. Another 10 to 15% of the victims die on the way to the hospital, and the rest at the hospital. We can perhaps reduce these shocking figures, if we paid more attention to road safety.  

Road Rage

I take the auto to office from Ulsoor to Koramangala and am witness to the cacophony and mess that ensues en route. Around 2 months ago, we turned left on Primrose Road from MG Road to get to Magrath Road. Primrose Road is rather narrow and sees a significant amount of two-way traffic, especially at the Brunton Cross Road intersection. It was one of those days where traffic was a little worse than usual and every driver was doing his damndest to make sure his vehicle inched forward, and so was the driver of the auto I was in. He tried to move the auto forward, blocking a car that came from the opposite direction. The man in the car had his windows rolled up and through the window I could see his face contorted in rage and hurling abuses at the auto driver.  It shocked me to see the fury and I wondered what makes people so angry on the roads?

Commuting in the country, even for a short distance, has not only become a stressful affair, but increasingly unsafe as well. The traffic situation is unorganised. We see several instances of absolute irreverence for rules every day. Each of us has probably flouted these rules, in order to make it simpler for us, without a care for what could happen.  

All of this boils down to one single thing – the road safety situation in India (or the lack of it rather) – needs to be relooked at and a complete overhaul of the present system is essential. Considering the rate at which cities and towns in the country are developing, a change in our thinking and the way that we behave is necessary, before an accident on the road, becomes a regular and unavoidable occurrence.

Safer Roads, Safer India

Accident Statistics – 2004 to 2014

Year

Fatal

Killed

Non-Fatal

Injured

Total

2004

875

903

8226

6921

9101

2005

796

836

6782

5899

7578

2006

880

915

6681

6048

7561

2007

957

981

7469

6591

8426

2008

864

892

6908

6150

7772

2009

737

761

6138

5668

6875

2010

816

858

5667

5343

6483

2011

727

757

5297

4976

6024

2012

740

760

4767

4471

5502

2013

737

771

4493

4289

5230

2014 (up to March)

183

187

1126

1105

1309

Source: http://www.bangaloretrafficpolice.gov.in

All is not lost though. Ashoka Changemakers, in collaboration with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has taken the first step in this direction. In an effort to make the roads safer for those driving, as well as for pedestrians, they have launched an online competition where they are crowd-sourcing ideas from across the country. Safer Roads, Safer India: Gamechanging Innovations that Save Lives is an online competition that aims at building a network to integrate innovative solutions – cultural, social, technological and administrative – for safer roads in the country.

R A Venkitachalam, VP, Public Safety Mission, UL says, ‘Road accidents not only cause tragic loss of life, but have a negative impact on the economy as well. In India, we tend to see accidents as a “part of life”. This needs to change’. He adds, ‘The competition aims to bring together the best ideas for a large scale social transformation and catalyse this critical movement’.

Ashwin Mahesh from Mapunity adds, ‘For the most part people know what to do; what we lack is direction on who needs to do what and who is accountable. Continuous intervention is required to make any changes to the system stick – not enough if it is talked about for a week and then brought up only when there is an incident or during Road Safety Week’.

The Safer Roads, Safer India competition will serve to mobilise public opinion and crowd source solutions that will reduce fatalities caused by road accidents. The solutions need to be focused on the areas of Active Citizenship, Technology, Governance or Infrastructure and should be innovative, sustainable and have social impact. The top six solutions will be incubated and implemented in association with civic authorities and key stakeholders. One of these ideas will be piloted in Bangalore. Winners will be awarded prizes of INR 300,000 each. In addition, there are two early bird prizes of INR 60,000 each, for entries submitted by April 30 2014. Details of the competition can be found here: http://www.changemakers.com/saferoads.

Are these mere statistics?

According to the World Health Organisation, India has the worst road traffic accident rate in the world. Of the 1.24 million road traffic deaths worldwide, 130,000 of them occur in India . And of these more than half are pedestrians!

Dr Gururaj from NIMHANS, who was part of the team that made wearing helmets compulsory says, ‘There has been a 180% increase in safety related incidents. In developing countries like India, the number has been going up along with development and an increase in and related infrastructure. Targeted interventions can help reduce this – examples of this are compulsorily use of helmets and seat belts,  restriction on cell phone usage, strict rules regarding driving under the influence.’

The Future of Road Safety

There are several citizens and citizen groups in Bangalore who are already actively involved in making the city roads safer.

Not a Statistic is a group that has been initiated by the family and friends of Kadambari Badami, 37, an urban planner and pedestrian safety activist with Transparent Chennai, who was killed when a BMTC bus hit her car in early March. The group is presently gathering data on existing practices in the road safety space and identifying agencies in the government and NGO sectors, who are working in the field, with whom they can collaborate to make the roads a safer place for both pedestrians as well as those driving. Radhika Yelkur, a member of the group, stated that they plan to work on two fronts – bring about a change in people’s attitudes through awareness campaigns and address accountability issues, where people need to become more responsible. She also commended the Bangalore Traffic Police, which she says has been very effective in creating awareness and enforcing laws. The group hopes that this sort of change can ensure that the next accident-related death on the road is merely not looked at as “just another statistic”.

Residents in HSR Layout too are doing their bit. HSR Layout has become a residential cum commercial area. The roads are in good condition, and as a result, traffic has significantly increased, and with it the number of incidents on the road. Residents have come together, with support from their corporator, K Latha Narasimhamurthy, to make the walkways more pedestrian friendly. From street furniture to tree guards to solar lamps, the walkways are getting a facelift – corporate organisations in the area have funded the initiative as part of their CSR initiative. Latha had this to say about the Safer Roads, Safer India competition, “It is a very good initiative. For the first time, people are focusing on road safety and this is very encouraging for the society. The change is something that is required.’ She also added that Ward 174, HSR Layout would be taking part in the ‘Safer Roads, Safer India’ competition.  

Mapunity is a organisation that develops technology to tackle social problems and development challenges, with several road safety projects currently in development mode. At the heart of these projects is the need to make the city roads safer, especially for NMT (Non Motorised Transport) which includes those walking or cycling, pedestrians, push carts and the like. carts. The Big Transit project hopes to make proactive interventions in areas where the Outer Ring Road connects to the 12 arterial roads and therefore reduce the number of fatalities on the road .

They also have an accident mapping project on the cards, which will crowd-source reports of accidents across the city. Sathya Sankaran, a consultant with Mapunity says, ‘As of now, information about accident-prone areas does not necessarily go back to the city planners. There is also no central repository which has information about accidents around the city. With this mapping interface, we will collect data about accidents from the public, analyse it and pass it on to the planners.  In time, we will be able to ascertain if the accident transpired due to negligence on the part of the drivers or if it was something that could have been prevented if the design was better’.  Sathya adds, ‘If 15 minor accidents occur at a spot, it is not recognised as an accident-prone area until a major accident takes place; even then there are chances where it could be declared as a one-off incident’.  

Your idea could be the catalyst for road safety

With the rapid pace at which India is growing, maybe sometimes too quickly for its own good, it is essential for a large scale change in the thinking and mindsets of its people. Ignorance and indifference can no longer be an excuse to adjust and trudge along. Road safety is something that we live with or without everyday and it is time that people paid attention.

The Safer Roads, Safer India competition is certainly a positive start. If you have an idea that could possibly make a significant difference to safety on India’s roads, do take part in the competition. If you know someone who is already working in this space, you can nominate them as well. If the intent and the idea are right, it is inevitable that the impact of such an initiative touches many lives and improves the quality of our lives.

 

About Ganga Madappa 77 Articles
Ganga Madappa is a Staff Reporter and the Community Manager at Citizen Matters. She loves cats and books and travel. She tweets at @pulicatmonster and blogs at Random Rambling.

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