At the third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Stockholm, Sweden, in February this year, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organisation – who of course is more popular now owing to his role in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic – said the world is paying an unacceptable price for mobility, and called the millions of lives lost every year due to road traffic collisions “an outrage.”
As per the last registered figures, road traffic accidents account for over 1.35 mn lives every year, with about 150,000 of those in India. In one of its earlier reports, the World Resources Institute (WRI) stated that India accounts for about 2 % of motor vehicles globally, yet it’s responsible for more than 11 % of road traffic deaths.
Regrettably, despite successive Indian governments’ announced intention to bring down road fatalities in India by half by 2020, civil society and NGOs’ efforts at educating the masses on the importance of being safe on roads, have not led to desired results. The passing of the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill by the Indian Parliament in July last year is expected to improve the safety quotient of Indian roads, but one really has to monitor the situation over the next couple of years to gauge if stricter rules are indeed able to bring down road-related deaths in the country.
Interestingly, with the lockdown imposed across the country due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, with strict restriction of traffic movement in the initial phase, one would expect road fatalities to be minimal. They sure were, but compared to the number of deaths due to the virus spread, deaths of motorists were still higher in some parts of the country.
Clearly, the situation calls for far better understanding and education among road users and people in general. Among the many awareness drives initiated by organisations and individuals across the country, one recent initiative by a Delhi-based NGO calling for “traffic distancing”, asking vehicles to maintain a two-metre gap with the vehicle in front is a powerful message. If every driver on the road is able to practice this, we can expect lesser accidents, resulting in lesser injuries and deaths.
It should be an individual’s social responsibility (ISR) to ensure our roads get safer. One of the other things I’ve always believed in is to empower our children, making them our road safety ambassadors; teaching them to ensure they talk to the elders about safety. It might take us a while to train these young minds, but that would be a good start to a movement. Inaction and the Que Sera Sera mentality will certainly not help.
DEEPANGSHU DEV SARMAH
August 2020, New Delhi