Callous attitude

Even without the World Health Organisation’s expression of concern over India’s position as the country with the highest number of deaths in road accidents, its poor record on road safety was well known.

The national crime records bureau has put the number of deaths in road accidents at over 143,000 last year, with pedestrians and two-wheeler drivers accounting for more than  half of them. Those who are disabled in accidents, sometimes for their entire lives, are many times more.

The number of accidents and casualties keep increasing every year, in spite all talk about policy reforms and steps to make the roads safer. About 150 million vehicles run on the crowded roads and their numbers are increasing every day. The issue of road safety receives attention only on days dedicated for it or in the wake of major accidents.

The reasons are obvious. The road length in the country is inadequate and even those which exist are narrow, ill-maintained and unsafe. Vehicles do not have the best safety standards which are followed the world over.

Education of road users is poor and licences are issued without rigorous test of driving skills by corrupt road transport departments. Enforcement of the law is equally bad, with no strict checking on use of helmets and seat belts and no effective measures against  drunken driving. Facilities for medical care after accidents are not readily available everywhere, especially on the highways.

There is no awareness of the importance of emergency care. Though the law has been changed to facilitate quick attention to accident victims, many people are still hesitant to take the right action in such situations. The attitudes of doctors, hospitals and the police  are also not the most helpful. The rules of compensation for victims and families are inadequate.

The national road safety policy, which seeks to address most of these problems, is still an idea in progress. Many of the sound recommendations of a national level committee, made in 2007, on matters pertaining to road safety are yet to be implemented. Most of the problems relating to safety are at the level of enforcement of the rules.

Others relate to infrastructure and policy. With the number of vehicles going up steadily and infrastructure being in poor shape, the situation is only going to get worse. There should be coordinated efforts involving many departments to deal with the problem.

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