New Delhi: A reported 103,000 road deaths took place in India in 2004, an equivalent to an Airbus crash on a daily basis. But since these were scattered events, they made little impact on public minds.
Murad Ali Baig, Auto expert & columnist
In terms of numbers, there were more than 450,000 injuries. Also damages/ costs accruing from accidents where human lives and livelihoods were lost, was far more than just the cost of vehicles involved. 32% were pedestrian deaths, 24% on 2-wheelers, 15% inside cars and 11% on bicycles.
Driven by competitive pressures and increasingly stringent government regulations in most countries all modern cars now meet high safety standards. They have dozens of active and passive features.
Passive safety features are things like stronger bodies to protect inmates, impact absorbing bumpers and crumple zones to absorb accident shocks, seat belts and air bags.
Active safety features include anti locking ABS brakes, better suspensions and power steering that enable a driver to have better control of his car. With crash testing being mandated from 2009, all Indian cars will be much safer but the government must act to retire the unsafe old ones which are presently running on the road.
A report from Italy reveals that over 85% of the accidents were caused by human error; 14 % aggravated by falling asleep behind the wheel;, 6.4 % from excessive speed; 3% by irregular overtaking and 3 % by wrong turning.
Women, being usually more cautious, were found to be much safer drivers. Age was a factor and the highest accident risk was between 18 and 24 years. This went up after the age of 55, rising steeply for those beyond 70.
Surprisingly, most accidents took place in good weather and on straight dry roads when drivers tend to be more careless. Driver stress, aggression, inexperience and carelessness were some of the other reasons that led to road disasters.
Accident risk from alcohol consumption was not as high as is commonly thought but rose from 5% with consumption below 0.8 mg of alcohol in100 gms of blood (roughly two small pegs) to 10% at 1.0 mg, 20% at 1.2 mg to 30% at 1.4 mg. That extra ‘one for the road’ could literally be ‘one for the end’.
Little wonder then that 73% of accidents under the influence of alcohol occurred between 10 pm and 6 am suggesting that party happiness did indeed make people careless. Other causes like bad roads, bad weather and cross winds were relateively speaking, quite minor.
In order to drive safe, a driver has to make himself more accident conscious. Some tips:
* Even experienced drivers have accidents. A state of constant alert is necessary at all times because sudden troubles can come unexpectedly
* Seat belts significantly save lives up to about 80 kmph and then airbags are a must but airbags are dangerous if the seatbelt is not being used
* 2-wheelers are very accident prone and all drivers and passengers must wear crash helmets, even if it spoils hair styling, because most 2-wheeler injuries result in head injuries
* Vehicle fitness must be constantly checked. Brakes and tread on rear tyres must not be worn
* Tyres heat up, especially if driving for hours on a hot day and the pressure increases to reduce the tyres’ footprint and grip
* ABS brakes are a big improvement on standard brake systems but no brake systems can handle extreme situations
* Fast traffic and tractors or cattle are not compatible on highways. Most National Highways unfortunately connect a number of towns and resultantly about 70% of the traffic is local traffic including cattle and tractor-trailers that have no respect for traffic rules.
Murad Ali Baig is one of India’s foremost auto experts. Feedback to his column can be sent at firstname.lastname@example.org