The 31st road safety week 2020 is over. Once more, India’s dubious record on road safety was the front and centre of the conversation. The country, unfortunately, has the distinction of being the road traffic death capital of the world, at least in terms of the official statistics.
Between the first and the thirty-first road safety week, road traffic fatalities tripled from 50,000 per year to 150,000 per year. So, why are we not able to tame the road crashes or road accidents as they are commonly known as in our country? That’s because we have still not understood the science of road safety. Let me explain a little.
First, we need to understand that road safety is not just an “accident”. The term ‘accident’ means an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.
However, road crashes don’t happen by chance; they occur when road users, motor vehicles, and the environment interact in an unwarranted manner. Therefore, by calling it ‘accident’ – we are saying implying that nothing can be done about these deaths and injuries.
It’s the price that society is willing to pay for having motor vehicles. If that is the case, then why incidents involving an aeroplane or train are called crash and not accident? They also transport people and good! Therefore the starting point is to change the language from a road accident to a road crash. It is vital in changing attitudes.
Now, let’s look at what causes so many road traffic deaths in India? Most of the road crash is linked to ‘rash and negligent driving,’ which means human error. One way to address this is to educate the human being. This is what we have been doing for so many years without any success.
It is therefore essential to understand that the main thrust of traffic crash prevention revolves around 4 E’s vis (i) Education; (ii) Enforcement; (iii) Engineering; and (iv) Environment and Emergency care of road crash victim.
Yes, education is essential, but there is more to road safety. This would require multiples agencies working together, and that is why road safety programs in India don’t give the desired result. So what can we do? We need to look at the safe systems approach or the Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. Road designing plays an important role in safeguarding the most vulnerable road users, pedestrians and cyclists.
Vision Zero is based on an underlying ethical principle that no traffic death or serious injury is acceptable. The traditional road safety approach is based on road users bearing complete responsibility for safety. However, Vision Zero changes this relationship by emphasizing that transportation system designers and road users share the responsibility. After Vision Zero Sweden, Europe, and the UK, this approach has global acceptance. This is because there is clear evidence to support that is works. Countries and cities that have taken a Safe System approach to road safety by accepting that people make mistakes, but they should not be penalized for by their lives. These countries and cities have reduced traffic fatalities and serious injuries much more than those stuck with the traditional road safety approach.
Therefore, India needs a safe systems approach to road safety. Luckily, it has a working example in Haryana. It is the first state in India to officially adopt the vision zero approach by launching the Haryana Vision Zero program. The chief minister of Haryana launched the program on May 03, 2017. The program initially covered ten districts of Haryana and saw positive results. It has now been expanded to all the districts of the state with a positive impact.
However, a lot needs to be achieved, but it is a good beginning and much more needed to be accomplished and that too at a rapid pace to save innocent lives dying on our roads. The program has already adopted in Punjab and many more states and cities are looking to learn from the Haryana’s Vision Zero approach to minimize road accidents. Therefore, the road safety approach in India requires a paradigm change. It’s time to revisit the traditional method as the county has lost far too many lives on roads; it cannot afford to lose any more.