Safety on the roads is everyone’s concern and, like the proverbial weather, everyone talks about it and complains but precious little is done. Traffic is chaotic; manageable chaos till some time ago but now increasingly unmanageable. Since 2000 the country has seen major tragedies due to road traffic mishaps. Over one lakh people lose their lives on the roads annually and close to six lakh suffer incapacitating injuries. Economic loss runs to several hundred crores of rupees but trauma and loss to the victims’ families are incalculable. Harsh penalties, comprehensive reviews of the road safety policy, enhanced power to stakeholders, establishment of a road safety authority are the salient features of the Road Transport and Safety Bill 2014, which replaces the archaic Motor Vehicles Act 1988 passed in Parliament.
Bad road-user behaviour, faulty licensing system, poor road design and engineering with low probability of prosecution for lapses, and weak enforcement of inadequate traffic laws compromised road safety, which the new law hopes to tackle.
Traffic Management is a bête noir for the police as any effort made disappears in the ocean of traffic woes! Traffic enforcement can never be implemented in isolation without the involvement of road users and other stakeholders. This is the only way to make our roads safe. Drunken driving and rash, reckless driving were identified by the public as two important offences to be tackled by the police. Understandably so as it affects people at large. Added to this is the tendency among youth with high speed bikes to try motorcycle stunts on thoroughfares. This is a major menace in many cities during holidays and evening hours near parks and beaches.
Reduction of fatalities should be the primary objective of traffic management, apart from ensuring smooth flow of traffic. Preventive measures include ensuring speedy treatment within one hour of an accident — the ‘golden hour’. In Chennai city a programme of objective oriented traffic enforcement with the target of reducing road mishaps was conceived and implemented in 2005-2006. An organisation — Citizens for Safe Roads (CSR) — was revamped to ensure active involvement of citizens in traffic management.
Road Safety Patrol involving students is another important initiative that apart from educating the youth on road safety ensures smooth flow of traffic near educational institutions with the active participation of the students themselves in maintaining it. In Chennai from a meagre 5,000 the strength of student road safety patrols swelled to nearly 40,000. Such concerted efforts meticulously implemented in 2005 resulted in a reduction of fatalities by nearly thirty per cent. From the previous figure of 700, fatalities came down to 490, indeed a monumental achievement. This is possible in every city if a target is fixed and conscious efforts made to achieve it.
Immediate medical assistance to accident victims is a major area of concern. It is essential that accident relief centres are strengthened on the highways and highway police patrols made more effective. Highway Patrol and the Ambulance Service is the first responder to reach an accident scene and is responsible for organising emergency services. However the Highway Patrol is not medically assisted in the rural areas abutting the highways. The solution is to establish Emergency Accident Relief Centres. These distinctive EARCs are set up to assist the Highway Patrol Police in saving trauma victims on the highways . On the highways of the Tamil Nadu one trauma care centre has been set up every 50 km. It is the duty of the public to render assistance to the accident victim but more often than not people fail to respond, which results in death of the victim who could have been saved if rushed to a trauma care centre.
As a pilot project in trauma care in Tamil Nadu an International Trauma Anaesthesia and Critical Care Society (ITACCS) was involved with a view to reducing trauma-related deaths in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. The objective was to integrate specialists for training medical and non-medical personnel in trauma care and create awareness about golden hour trauma care in and around the district. Needless to say the pilot project was a resounding success and plans are afoot to establish similar centres in the other 32 districts.
At the beginning of every year Road Safety Week is observed in several parts of the country to create awareness.
Safety has to be built into our day-to-day activity and clear standard operating procedures should be drawn up by educational institutions, industries, business centres, shopping malls, multiplexes and so on.
Road Safety is no Accident. Zero tolerance of road mishaps will not happen ‘accidentally’; stakeholders have to join hands to achieve the goal of safety.