Killer roads

The Supreme Court’s observation that Indian roads are mass killers demanding immediate attention and remedial action could not be more true. Figures given out by various agencies and the experience of people show that the country’s roads are perhaps the most dangerous in the world.

The reports of the World Health Organisation and the national crime records bureau have periodically given the grim statistics of death and disability but unfortunately, the situation has only been worsening.

The number of deaths last year was over 140,000.

China, which has a larger road network, has reduced the number of deaths from road accidents from over one lakh to about 67,000 in the last five years. But in India the toll has only kept rising year after year.

The court has set up a committee under a judge and comprising two experts to monitor implementation of motor vehicle laws and road safety designs and report back to it within three months with necessary recommendations to improve the situation.

The committee will study the implementation of rules, licensing and certification of vehicles, use of safety devices, the adequacy of manpower for enforcement of laws and related issues.

The problem on the roads is much larger than these issues indicate. The road  length is inadequate for the size and population of the country.

They are not broad enough to cater to the increasing traffic, and are badly designed and ill-maintained. Accident relief and medical care facilities are not up to the mark.

Awareness of laws and safe driving practices is poor. Motor vehicles departments and enforcement personnel are often found to be corrupt.

There may be scepticism about what recommendations of committees can do to improve the situation when the problems are so entrenched. Some years ago the Sundar committee appointed by the government had made a number of sensible suggestions which are yet to be implemented.

Other committees, including parliamentary panels, have also studied the problems. The court has accepted that the four areas identified by the government as calling for action – enforcement of rules, engineering of roads and vehicle fitness, education and emergency care are the most important. But identification of the problems is not enough.

The SC’s initiative will be useful only if it can force the governments to take immediate and comprehensive remedial actions. 

 

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