Road Accidents: India is likely to miss SDG 3.6

The Sustainable Development Goal 3.6 aims to halve the number of road accident deaths by 2020 but is yet to come up with a comprehensive plan for it.

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Kanhaiya Lal desperately cried for help but motorists swerved straight past him. His young son and the splayed out bodies of his wife and infant daughter lay next to the mangled motor bike on which they had all been travelling seconds earlier.

The widely broadcast CCTV footage of this scene — showing the suffering of a family of hit-and-run victims in North India in 2013 — and the apparent indifference of passers-by troubled many Indians. When a road accident occurs, it is very common for bystanders to call for help or try and extend a helping hand themselves, however the scenario in India is deplorably changing.

Road traffic accidents are a brutal reality of developing and low-income countries.

According to the World Health Organisation, they are the fifth leading cause of lost lives globally. Every year 10 per cent fatalities increase globally. The Sustainable Development Goal 3.6 aims to halve the number of deaths by 2020 and injuries from road accidents but 1.35 million fatalities result in around 3,300 deaths per day with 50 million injured people.

The recent report during road safety week threw light on how road accidents are foremost reason of deaths among the age group of 5-29 years. According to the latest 2017 data by the Transport Research Wing of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, 4, 64,910 accidents have been reported in which 1,47,913 lives have been lost and 4,70,975 were injured.

“Every single minute, a serious road accident occurs, and every single hour, six lives are lost which account for 1.5 lakh individuals every year in India.”

In India, Motor Vehicle Act 1936 and its subsequent amendments in 1994, 2000, 2001, 2015 and 2017, to deal with the changing technological management, motor vehicle management and other challenges, has been an important step for maintaining legal framework.

Also Read : Road Accidents and Lack of Injury Surveillance Data: A Public Apathy

In 2015, India signed the United Nations Brasilia Declaration, dedicating itself to reduce road accidents and fatalities by 50 per cent by 2020.

The bill proposes penalities, Good Samaritan Laws, several traffic offences; the bill is prominent step in

According to Piyush Tewari, founder of Save Life Foundation, there are three prominent causes for road accidents. There is a need for such miss-happenings to be recognised as an epidemic and pandemic in the first place. Secondly, it is equally important to record unreported deaths in road accidents. It has been noted that only causalities on the accident spot are reported while the others only find a place in the charge sheet but not in the FIR. This leads to a condition where there is no proper statistical data tool to record the number of deaths.

The third challenge is the unamended Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 as it remains silent on almost fifty percent of its stakeholders which are not related to the motorised sector. This includes pedestrians, cyclists and children, the most vulnerable sections of people. “It is disappointing that there are no standards, regulatory measures or statutory framework to protect them,” he says.

“He also expresses his concern to Delhi Post stressing that such accidents are a threat to the socio-economic lives in India, considering that the age group mainly affected by this is between 15 and 45.”

As a mandatory measure, he suggests reference to the Asian countries like Vietnam and Singapore, where helmet and pedestrian laws are strictly implemented. Motorcycle helmets are a highly effective road safety intervention that reduces the frequency and severity of head injuries resulting from traffic crashes. According to a recent review, helmet use reduces the risk of motorcycle injuries by 69 per cent and motorcycle fatalities by 42 per cent.

Though the numbers of fatalities and accidents have reduced in 2017, from the earlier years, but the target to make it half is still far flung. In 2016, 4,80,000 accidents were reported whereas 1,50,000 fatalities occurred and in 2015, accidents reported were 5,01,000 where 1,46,000 fatalities were recorded.

Though India talks about bringing down 50 per cent of accidents, it has till now clogged somewhere around three per cent. While Punjab, West Bengal and Gujarat saw a decline in number of such accidents, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh saw an increase, as per 2017 data.

WHO global status report’s incertitude over the number of lost human lives accounts for 2,99,000 lives annually. UNESCAP (UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific) in 2016 admits that India loses $58 billion in a year, which is three per cent of the GDP of India.

“Until two years ago, India was placed second to China by global not-for-profit International Road Federation. Though China managed to reduce the numbers considerably, India just managed to reduce by a per cent.”

Some of the studies claim that 90 per cent accidents are caused by drivers’ fault whereas drunk driving and overspeeding are other causes. Many road accidents are the result of faulty road-design and engineering.

The road specially a single-lane one with a sharp curve poses a bigger danger. It should be designed in a way that one could see the vehicle coming from the other side. Overspeeding, ignoring helmets, jumping red lights, using phones while driving, intoxicated driving; overtaking etc. are all “small” incidents which could result in mighty fatalities.

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A report by Save Life Foundation states that bystanders play a crucial role in preventing death by grievous injuries considering the golden period of the first fifteen minutes of an accident. As per the report, only 29 per cent are ready to escort victims to hospitals, 28 per cent call ambulance, and 12 per cent are ready to call police. ‘Around 33 per cent do not help because of the fear of police harassment and other 28 per cent because they do not want to indulge themselves in the legal mess and court appearances. “The knowledge about the Good Samaritan Law in order to help such victims” is only known to 16 per cent of the sampled population.

“Child safety on roads is another issue that is not often highlighted. The Convention on Rights of the Child emphasises for a safe environment for children. While it could manage to stir interest in nutrition and education, child road safety has not garnered enough attention such that 9,400 children below 18 years have lost their lives annually.”

It would not be wrong to say that road accidents induces poverty. The socio-economic lives of individuals and their families are disproportionately ruined. The commercialisation of medical treatments in India compels families into debt trap and poverty. In the paper by Dr. BKS Sanjay, he points out that either by selling the assets or borrowing money, medical care is provided.  In spite of tremendous efforts, one-fourth of 50 per cent accident survivors remain disabled. The survivors, thus face severe problems while returning to their work spaces.

“Checking helmets and seat belt use, removal of stray animals, deputation of ambulances on highway and busy roads with basic medical care and striving for awareness about the importance of ‘golden hour’ could be some of the solutions.”

Besides, road conditions must be improved by relaying road surfaces and marking road safety signs, providing pedestrian-friendly spaces.

The approach towards road safety has become the farrago of ideas, plans and amendments. An adequate bottom-up reformation is the need of the golden hour.