Last year, transport minister Nitin Gadkari said that road accidents are “more serious than the COVID-19 pandemic,” and this is corroborated by the data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau.
Over 1.55 lakh lives were lost in road crashes across India just in 2021, says a recent report by the NCRB.
So, every day 425 people lose their lives on Indian roads and the recent high-profile death of former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry has put the spotlight yet again on road safety.
The report said that during 2021, two-wheelers have contributed 44.5% of total road accidental deaths (69,240 deaths), followed by cars at 15.1% with 23,531 deaths and trucks or lorries had a 9.4% contribution (14,622 deaths).
The report also highlighted that overspeeding remains the biggest cause of road accidents—contributing to 56% of the total road crash deaths (87,050 deaths), followed by dangerous or careless driving, contributing to 27.5% of total crash deaths (42,853 deaths). Most of these road accidents in India have happened on national highways.
India accounts for about 2% of motor vehicles globally. Yet, it is the home to more than 11% of the world’s road traffic deaths. According to a UN study, India loses 3% of its GDP to road accidents by removing prime-age adults from the workforce.
Despite the high number of fatalities, in India, people wearing seat belts is a rare sight.
While rear seat belts have been mandatory under the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, most kaali peeli taxis don’t even have seat belts for passengers.
Rear seat belts prevent fatality
According to the World Health Organisation, the use of rear seat belts can prevent fatality by 25% and injuries by 75%.
Reports suggest that Mistry was seated in the back and was not wearing a seatbelt.
After the incident, Gadkari also said that the ministry is now working towards making six airbags compulsory in all cars.
It was not too long ago, just in February 2022 that the Indian government had also made it mandatory for automakers to provide three-point seat belts for all front-facing passengers in a car, which is also applicable for the middle seat in the rear row of a car.
It is also stated in the rules Motor Vehicles Act 138(3) that fastening seat belts is compulsory for passengers sitting in the front as well as the rear seats.
However, India fails to follow the law of its land. As per a 2019 report by SaveLIFE Foundation, less than 1% of people in India use rear seat belts. 37.8% of all the people surveyed didn’t even know that any such legal compulsion existed. While 23.9% of people didn’t even know that rear seat belts existed.
The centre has also made it compulsory for all cars to have six airbags across from October 1.
After losing his ‘good friend,’ minister Gadkari said that all cars exported out of India have 6 airbags and asked then why Indian cars have only four airbags.
What India can learn from other countries
In 1997, Sweden adopted a ‘Vision Zero’ policy based on the idea that “no loss of life was acceptable.” The policy did not focus on changing human behaviour, the emphasis was on designing a better system of roads and other infrastructure, vehicle technology and enforcement.
On the other hand, Singapore uses advanced warning lights that alert drivers about the upcoming signal and vehicle speed. Japan also has a strict policy for drunken drivers. It has a zero percent blood-alcohol level standard for drivers and individuals caught driving under the influence can face imprisonment for up to 15 years.
In Switzerland, passengers travelling in the same car as a drunk driver are also considered liable and can lose their own licenses.
Apart from strictly enforcing speed limits and other road regulations, Norway has found a unique approach to reduce its fatalities. It has made it mandatory for drivers to always have their headlights on while driving.
Safety measures taken by automakers
From installing airbags and adding stringent seatbelt alarms to running awareness campaigns, automakers have been trying to up safety for India’s car passengers.
Maruti, Hyundai and Tata Motors offer six airbags across some models. Luxury car companies like Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volvo are also offering six airbags and the number increases on the higher-end models.
Safety rules you must follow
To stay safe, one must obey road safety rules and regulations of India.
- Look for the traffic signs before you cross signals.
- Drive within the speed limits prescribed. Ideally one should drive at approximately not more than 30 kmph near busy places such as markets and residential areas.
- Keep vehicle oiled and serviced. A sudden breakdown of the vehicle on the road can cause hardships not only to you but also to fellow drivers and traffic personnel.
- Stop or slow down your vehicle and allow the pedestrians to crossroads at unmanned/signalled Zebra crossings.
- Always wear seat belts while driving four-wheelers.
- Avoid rash or negligent driving.
- Do not drink and drive.
- Avoid using mobile phones while driving. In case of an urgent call, park the vehicle to the side of the road and put the brake lights on, and allow other motorists to pass by.
- Turn the brake lights ON before stopping so that the vehicles behind can avoid a collision.
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