A journey of a thousand miles, it is said, begins with a single step. The smoother the path, the faster and safer one may reach his destination. Sadly, pedestrians in India are the most vulnerable road users. Going by the latest government data, around 56 people died daily while walking last year. The same report also highlighted that 133 two-wheeler riders and around 10 cyclists were killed daily in road accidents in 2017. As per the Road Accidents in India report of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for 2017, Tamil Nadu witnessed maximum number of pedestrian deaths (3,507) last year, followed by Maharashtra (1,831) and Andhra Pradesh (1,379). Similarly, in case of two-wheeler deaths, Tamil Nadu topped the list with 6,329 fatalities followed by 5,699 in Uttar Pradesh and 4,659 in Maharashtra.
The official statistics raises concern on two fronts. One, the figures of death and injury from accidents are generally viewed as an underestimate by experts. The Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at IIT Delhi, for example, suggests that cumulatively, road traffic injuries recorded by the police are underestimated by a factor of 20, and the ones requiring hospitalisation by a factor of four. That way, the number of people who suffered injuries in 2017 far exceeds the 4,70,975 figure reported by the Ministry.
Secondly, pedestrians in general are the poorest among road users. As they have least protection, it makes them sitting ducks for lawless and careless drivers behind the wheels of cars, buses and trucks. Cyclists and two-wheeler users are also quite vulnerable as they too come from comparatively weak economic background. It’s not that the people in authorities are not aware about the situation. Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport & Highways, recently admitted that road accidents kill more Indians than terrorism or left-wing extremism that are usually cited as the biggest threats to the nation’s security — or epidemics. “More people have died in road accidents than in all the wars India has fought since 1947,” he said, referring to the five wars — four with Pakistan and one with China — with 10,253 troops officially killed in action. Comparatively, 15 times more Indians are killed each year in road accidents.
To make things better for roadsters, first thing must come first. And it is public infrastructure that includes the design of roads, their quality and maintenance, and the safety of public transport, among others. The traffic system in the country also need to be overhauled to keep up with the phenomenal increase in the volume of vehicles. The process of introducing legislation for road safety, which has been in the making for more than four years, should be fast-tracked The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2017. If cleared by the Rajya Sabha, it will be the first of its kind to extensively reform the existing laws on road safety, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The Bill is most likely to rectify several systemic issues by offering a uniform driver licensing system, protection to children and vulnerable road users, rationalising penalties, among other initiatives. Saving more people from road accidents is more important than building more roads.