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Are Our Roads Really Safe?

Indian roads are killer roads that are not designed from safety point of view

Road Safety is a global concern. In 2009, UN adopted the Moscow Declaration on road safety. The period 2011-2020 has been adopted by UN General Assembly as the decade for Action on Road Safety. It is surprising to know that India has one of the lowest death rates due to terrorism in the world. In 2016, 462 persons are reported to have died due to terrorist incidents that accounts for less than 1% of the global toll of these deaths. It seems policy makers have given deaf ears to the form of terror that kills us faster than any bomb or a bullet! The form of terror unleashed on our roads everyday is “Road Crashes”! In 2015, the number of road deaths rose by 5% to 1.5 lakh. This translates to 400 deaths due to traffic crashes a day, 17 deaths per hour or one life snuffed out every 3 minutes. It is equal to ten times the entire global toll of the number killed by terrorism. 

Global Overview 

Road traffic injury is estimated to be the 9th leading cause of death globally and has the potential to become 7th leading cause of death by 2030. It is the “leading cause of death” for productive age group people between 15?29 years. Road crashes cause loss of around 3% of GDP in India. A recent estimate suggests that worldwide 12.5 lac people per year are killed in traffic related incidents. A large majority (92%) of road fatalities occurs in the low and middle income countries like India; while remaining only 8% occur in high income countries. In India, more than 50% fatalities are vulnerable road users (pedestrians and 2-wheelers).

J&K tops in Road Crashes 

According to MORTH, J&K tops among two other states in road accidents with an average of over 900 deaths every year in the last five years. Last year, 926 persons have died and 5000 road crashes have occurred across the state. J&K tops the list with 63.5% of high accidental death prone areas (blackspots) on the basis of percentage share of deaths due to unnatural causes in road accidents and poisoning during 2013 (National Crime Record Bureau).

Over Speeding

The studies show that 43% of road accidents are caused by over speeding and rash driving. As speed increases from about 20 kmph to 100 kmph, the probability of fatal injuries increases from zero to almost 100%. That means below speed of 20 kmph there is no chance of fatality in road accidents. The probability of serious injury for belted front-seat occupants is three times as great at 48 kmph and four times as great at 64 kmph compared with the risk at 32 kmph. For car occupants in a crash with an impact speed of 80 km/h, the likelihood of death is 20 times what it would have been at an impact speed of 32 kmph. Pedestrians have a 90% chance of surviving car crashes at 30 kmph or below, but less than a 50% chance of surviving impacts at 45 kmph or above. The probability of a pedestrian being killed rises by a factor of 8 as the impact speed of the car increases from 30 kmph to 50 kmph. 

Education in Support of Safety Laws

Educational efforts to support laws and law enforcement are a better example of where education can contribute. The voluntary seat belt use rates are typically low and attempts to convince people to use belts through education and persuasion programs have had little success. However, education when combined with extensive enforcement has yielded the fruitful results. The ironic finding is that children under 8-9 years with traffic safety education can have more crashes than those who don’t. Thus, school based driver education leads to early licensing but increases road crashes.

Changing Drivers Behavior 

Drivers fault account for around 77% of total road accidents, 72% of the total number of persons killed and 80% of the total number of persons injured in road accidents during 2015 (MORTH). Surveys around the world have revealed most people have belief that their driving and crash avoidance skills are above average. In one study conducted in US, 20% thought their skills were far above average, 52% thought they were above average, and the other 28% thought their skills were average. This leads people to think they can control their own crash involvement.  

Safety in Seat Belt

With no seatbelt, the driver flies free until stopped suddenly by impact on the steering column, windshield, etc. The stopping distance is estimated to be about one fifth of that with a seatbelt, causing the average impact force on the driver to be about five times greater. Your seat belt is intended to go around your rib cage and pelvis because these are sturdy parts of your body and can absorb the stopping force better. 

Sweden Concept of Vision Zero in Safety 

The vision zero is based on ethical principle that "it can never be ethically acceptable that people are killed or seriously injured when moving within the road transport system”. First implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, Vision Zero has proved successful across Europe and now it’s gaining momentum in major American cities.It is based on the simple fact that we are human and make mistakes. The road system needs to keep us moving and protect us at every turn. It is designing a system to minimize the number of events that cause injury by "allowing" these incidents to occur at a level of violence that does not threaten life or long-term health. The responsibility for every death or loss of health in the road transport system rests with the person responsible for the design of that system.

Crash Counter Measures

The scientific approach featuring a broader array of countermeasure options for traffic safety is guided by the Haddon matrix which includes a) Behavioral b) Vehicle c) Environmental factors as well as pre-crash, during-the-crash, and post-crash measures. Reducing crashes and their consequences through vehicle design enhancements and sound road engineering/environmental practices, supplemented by enforcement is the preferred approach in the entire world. The first hour post-crash is considered to be the golden hour to save the life of victim as there is maximum chance of survival. 

Government Initiative

After international pressure to reduce road fatalities, Indian government has passed “The motor vehicle (Amendment) Bill” in Lok Sabha in 2016 that can have revolutionary impact on reduction of road crashes. It is still pending in the Rajya Sabha from more than 2 years. Following are few of the amendments scripted in the bill: 

i. Contractors, consultants and civic agencies will be accountable for faulty design, construction or poor maintenance of roads leading to accidents.

ii. The government can recall vehicles whose components or engine do not meet the required safety standards. The manufacturers can be fined up to Rs 500 crore in case of sub-standard components or engine.

iii. In traffic violations by juveniles, the guardians or owner of the vehicle would be held responsible.

iv. The bill has provision for protection of Good Samaritans (those who come forward to help accident victims will be protected from civil or criminal liability). 

v. The minimum fine for drunk driving has been increased from Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000. Driving without a licence or without a seat belt or talking on mobile while driving, rash driving will attract a minimum fine of Rs 5,000.  The fine for over-speeding will go up from Rs 400 to Rs 1,000-2,000. 

vi. The Bill has capped the maximum liability at Rs 10 lakh in case of death and Rs 5 lakh in case of grievous injury. 


We seldom design roads in India from the safety point of view. The road safety audit should to be made compulsory from the design till construction stage in every road project. The enforcement of helmet laws and seat belts to all car users should be strictly enforced. The retro reflective traffic signs, traffic signals, maximum speed limit signage, road marking at intersection, traffic calming measures, median strips between two lane carrying traffic in opposite direction  are small safety steps to begin with on our killer roads.


We have a societal and moral responsibility to design the products (vehicles), environment (roads) and laws (enforcement) so that road users on their own find it easy and convenient to behave in a safe manner on the road. The bottom line is lower vehicle speed with proper road design (from safety point of view) taking care of vulnerable road users (pedestrians and 2-wheelers) and focused enforcement will reduce traffic crashes. The roads, the vehicle and the traffic management components must be designed with recognition of the limitations of road users. The road safety audit should to be made compulsory from the design till construction stage in every road project.

(The author has done Maters in Transportation Engineering from IIT Delhi having four years working experience with RITES, under Ministry of Railway and now works as Assistant Engineer in PMGSY,Uri)

Two capital cities are confronted with acute urban problems of congestion, pollution, inadequacy of infrastructure, and services, all assuming challenging proportions.

Source: Greater Kashmir