Deaths due to road accidents have gone up marginally in 2018 from 150,000 in 2016, said a report by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. This number is roughly 12 per cent of the global road fatalities of 13 million but were caused by just one per cent of the global automobiles. These global annual road deaths are incidentally more than twice the number of people killed in all the global wars and terrorist activities. Every country, however, spends a huge amount of money on its army, police, planes, ships, guns and other military ordinance but only a fraction of the amount on road safety. Road accidents are not, however, a matter of national security and is not a glamorous subject so governments do not spend enough to minimize them. Therefore, road safety is not in a high priority list.
The causes behind these fatal accidents is significant. The fatalities among two-wheelers were the highest followed by four-wheelers, cyclists, and pedestrians. In advanced countries such as Britain, strong law enforcement has resulted in reduction of fatalities. According to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), all road deaths and accidents are not reported and the actual casualties might be much higher. What people also do not realise is that for every death about two others are also seriously injured and even more number of dependants suffer. No one has calculated the huge economic loss.
The report by the ministry of road has also highlighted that 67 per cent of the accidents in the country was caused by over-speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol accounted for only three per cent of the fatalities. The use of mobile phones should be blamed equally. Driving on the wrong side of the road caused more than twice number of casualties. Two-wheelers accounted for the most road deaths mainly caused due to head injury for not wearing helmets. Another cause is driver distraction as a result of eating, looking for fallen objects, using mobile phones. Bad condition of tyres, brakes, steering and suspensions are also responsible for accidents apart from bad weather, snow, ice or heavy rainfall.
Other factors include bad road lights, feeling sleepy and road rage cases. All these can be fixed by stricter control on the issue of driving licenses, CCTV camera surveillance and better policing. The recent increase in fines for traffic violations is a deterrent but enforcement is still very slack as is evident from the large number of bike riders we see on roads without helmets. We have even seen uniformed policemen driving without helmets.
The problem is aggravated by the growing number of vehicles and with the shortage of space on roads. According to a WHO report, India has 212 deaths per 100,000 vehicles in contrast to Germany with 6.9 or UK with 6.3. These clearly show that the road deaths drop dramatically when there is tight traffic management.
Speeding is undoubtedly the most important cause of crashes. Few people know that even at 50 kmph a driver normally needs about 20 meters before he can react and press the brakes but at 80 kmph he needs 35 meters space. So even with good brakes, speed seriously impacts on safety. Drunken driving is a serious issue because alcohol not only makes drivers reckless but also reduces their reaction time. Strict breathalyzer tests in developed countries have greatly reduced this problem. Road deaths should not also be called accidents because an accident suggests that the mishap was due to some unfortunate or unexpected circumstances. They should be called crashes.
Murad Ali Baig
Senior automobile analyst