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Insights into Editorial: Danger ahead: On India’s road safety record



Recent Motor Vehicles Act, 2019:

Union Transport Minister has expressed optimism that the significant amendments made to the Motor Vehicles Act have begun reducing the terrible death toll due to accidents on India’s roads.

Road accidents can affect people’s livelihood and push them into poverty. Studies show that poor households go into debt by borrowing money to cope with the additional medical expenses, in addition to losing income after an accident.

Containing road accidents needs to be a multi-sectoral effort that involves law enforcement, governance, (the issue of driving licenses and vehicle registration), engineering (appropriate road design) awareness raising and post-accident trauma care and management.


Grave situation in India before 2019 in road accidents:

  1. While India has less than 3 percent of the world’s vehicles, it accounts for about 12 percent of the world’s road deaths.
  2. In 2018 alone, World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost 300,000 people died due to road accidents in the country.
  3. This number remains disproportionately high compared to countries with much higher levels of motorization, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Netherlands.
  4. Poor enforcement: India’s traffic laws are stricter than those of other countries but these laws are not enforced.
  5. In many other countries, such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, where they have better enforcement, the alcohol is limit is 0.08 mg/l, higher than the 0.05 mg/l in India, in many countries crashes due to alcohol have been reduced due to enforcement of their laws and education.
  6. When it comes to enforcement, we know human behaviour is affected by enforcement and in India, enforcement is largely driven by human beings and is prone to corruption.
  7. City planning: On many roads there are no traffic-calming measures such as speed humps before intersections or median barriers.
  8. Roads should be made not just for use by four-wheelers but also for two-wheelers and pedestrians, and towns should be planned not just for expressways and commercial areas but also for hawkers and vendors.
  9. For instance, safer highways should be created by adding underpasses for pedestrians, especially those that are vulnerable, such as pregnant women and the elderly.
  10. A World Bank ‘Delivering Road Safety in India’ report is apprehensive that rapid motorisation and more high-speed road infrastructure have raised the risks for road users.


Results of the amendments made to the Motor Vehicles Act:

  1. As the prime mover of these changes, he finds the reported reduction in crashes, notably in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, proof of the law’s beneficial impact.
  2. Establishing and maintaining a data management system that monitors and analyses road accidents will help identify accident hot spots and enable the authorities to pin point what needs to be done to make these patches safer.
  3. Although road safety data in India is collected by the police departments of all states, this information needs to be analysed, with targets and policies set accordingly.
  4. However, Any reduction in road safety incidents in a rapidly motorising country is encouraging, but the cold reality is that data on those who lose their lives or are incapacitated do not reflect a marked decline.
  5. In fact, they underscore the culture of indifference among States. Unlike acute crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sent governments scrambling to save lives and stop economic derailment, a chronic malaise such as deadly road accidents begets only token measures.
  6. The new Motor Vehicles law does have more muscle in being able to levy stringent penalties for road rule violations some States are using it but that is not the same as saying that India has moved to a scientific road system marked by good engineering, sound enforcement, appropriate technology use and respect for all road users.


Way Ahead measures need to be adopted:

  1. The transition to a professional road environment requires implementation of first-tier reforms that deal with quality of road infrastructure, facilities for vulnerable users and zero-tolerance enforcement of rules by a trained, professional and empowered machinery.
  2. A key mechanism of change are District Road Safety Committees, which were enabled even by the 1988 Act, but remain obscure.
  3. A mandatory monthly public hearing of such committees involving local communities can highlight safety concerns, and their follow-up action can then be supervised by the Members of Parliaments’ Road Safety Committees, created last year.
  4. It is essential to make the Collector, local body and police accountable.
  5. Making dashboard cameras mandatory, with the video evidence accepted in investigation, would protect rule-abiding motorists and aid enforcement.
  6. To save lives on highways, quality trauma care at the district level holds the key.



In the absence of good hospitals and cashless free treatment, no significant improvement is possible in the quest to save life and limb.

Establishing a clear national goal and pursuing it in mission mode through an appropriately resourced lead agency is something India should focus on as a priority.

The amended Motor Vehicle Act, in fact, makes a provision for exactly such an agency—the National Road Safety Board. States are being encouraged to create independent lead agencies as well.

The human cost in this is enormous, and so is the impact on the economy.

A World Bank study has found that if India were to successfully halve road deaths and injuries between 2014 and 2038, it could potentially add 14 percent to its GDP per capita.

The National Road Safety Strategy, also envisages halving the number of road accident fatalities by 2025.