As one of the highest road accident rates in the world costs India 20 billion dollars per year, World Bank expert Arnab Bandhopadhya spoke with Pratigyan Das about why our roads are so unsafe, practical steps to fix this — and campaigns that must last till their mission is accomplished:
What ails Indian roads?
Engineering is one of the major drawbacks for Indian roads. Many times, engineers are unable to find the right geometrical symmetry to build ideally required roads. Due to unavailability of land, they compromise — as a result, engineering suffers.
Speed is another aspect. There’s complete mismatch between vehicles and roads. While vehicles with high speed have made inroads, unfortunately, roads are not yet prepared to handle such speed. Many accidents result due to this mismatch.
What are other major causes of accidents?
Heterogeneous traffic — vehicles coming from both directions with no segregation amounts to large-scale accidents.
Besides, enforcement is weak — we don’t have skilled policemen exclusively for traffic. In fact, there’s no traffic college in India. Moreover, the Motor Vehicle Act 1980 is archaic.
And the mindset of most Indian drivers is also to be blamed — cultural beliefs such as a ‘chalta hai’ attitude and a lack of respect for laws add to woes. Even after committing crimes, we get away easily as challans are very low — paying 100 rupees for jumping a traffic signal is nominal these days.
Raising fines, strict implementation of laws and a change of attitude are needed to minimise accidents in India.
What other steps may help?
Well, wearing seat belts, including in car rear seats, should be made mandatory. Around 50% lives are saved in the West because of strict implementation of this rule.
It’s also unfortunate license and vehicle registration skills are not properly tested in India. We really should develop e-databases for every vehicle.
Besides, the trauma care system must be improved. Most importantly, investment on road safety should go up. In the West, a major chunk of funds are allocated towards safety. We should follow this.
Apart from these steps, we need to have road intersections, lamp posts and poorly displayed signages reviewed frequently by engineers.
Mass awareness is also key. In India, we observe an awareness week — then forget about it till someone starts it again.
But a real awareness drive has to be vociferous —and continue till we achieve a goal.
What role does corruption play in road safety?
Corruption plays a major role in terms of licensing and registration. Sometimes, commercial drivers suffer from severe fatigue leading to accidents as they bear the brunt of traffic police who harass them, insisting on bribes to clear their vehicles.
Which countries have significantly improved their road safety?
Sweden, Norway and Denmark have set a benchmark. Sweden set a mission zero on road safety. That helped them reach a near-about target. Similarly, Australia had a crash rate of nearly 30% — but their sustained awareness drive brought it down to less than half.
Among others, New Zealand, Korea, Argentina, even Iran, have introduced safety programmes for school kids.
This interview was originally published in the Times of India on 1st August, 2014.