According to data provided by the Public Works Department, Karnataka witnessed 42,000 road accidents last year to emerge as the state with the third largest number of road mishaps in the country. Only Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh suffered more road accidents than Karnataka. According to the PWD secretary, the number of road accidents in the state “is gradually coming down due to some policy interventions.” While the reported decrease provides some hope, the number of road accidents is still far too many, and going by the latest figures — between January and March, the state saw 10,944 road accidents — it does seem that the state could suffer more road mishaps, and loss of lives, this year than it did last year. In this regard, it is heartening to see that authorities are beginning to take the poor safety on roads a bit more seriously. PWD authorities have said that they have mandated allotting a part of project costs towards road safety. This separate fund for road safety will be assigned in the detailed project report (DPR) itself. This could amount
to 2-3% of the project cost, going up to 5% for road projects in the Western Ghats.
Negligent driving is reported to be responsible for most road accidents. Indeed, speeding, overtaking from the wrong side and ignoring traffic signals cause many accidents. Rules for issuing driving licences have been tightened. But are they being implemented? Under-age driving is rampant. It is well known that bribes rather than driving expertise determines whether or not a person gets a licence. Another important reason for accidents is faulty road design and engineering flaws. Multiple accidents happen at certain points along roads. Road authorities in Karnataka are said to have identified only 565 ‘black spots’ so far, just the tip of the iceberg, it seems, especially considering the large number of accidents occurring annually in the state. It is imperative that the PWD identifies and rectifies these ‘blind spots’ immediately.
Another important killer on roads is potholes. Although several accidents, especially those involving two-wheelers are caused by potholes, authorities are rarely willing to admit that it was the pothole that caused the driver to lose control over the vehicle. Corruption and poor governance are to blame for accidents involving potholes but instead of improving the quality of roads and of material used, road authorities prefer to shirk responsibility. Many accidents, especially in urban Karnataka, can be avoided if the quality of roads is improved. Setting aside funds for road safety in the DPR itself is a step in the right direction. The next step will involve ensuring that these funds are put to right use. Karnataka must summon the political will to improve road safety.