India’s treacherous roads

India’s treacherous roads

Like many other United Nations (UN) initiatives, the Decade of Action for Road Safety is an optimistic plan. How effective it can be in prodding India to act on its road management standards is anybody’s guess. But if a recent report by the ministry of road transport and highways is anything to go by, then there is a dire need for safer Indian roads.

The major estimates are startling: there were 4,90,000 accidents in 2009, killing around 1,25,000 people, and injuring almost five times as many. Beyond the numbers, it shows that accidents have refused to decrease in number despite better and wider road networks. Indeed, estimates suggest the number of road accident deaths in 2010 was close to 1,60,000.

Road accidents take a massive toll: beyond the immediate human cost, there is the economic loss of income. That most of the deaths in 2009 were in the working age bracket substantiate this. Then there is the damage to property, the costs borne due to medical, administrative and police expenses, and the overall loss of productivity that trauma of this kind engenders.

That the statistics make India one of the most unsafe countries for road travel is shameful. It is also a matter of great concern, because the costs of such accidents are more acutely felt by a developing country. The road ministry report cites a Planning Commission study that found the socio-economic impact of road accidents to have been around 3% of India’s gross domestic product in 1999-2000.

High growth, of the kind India has experienced, should have had two effects: more resources devoted to road management (especially for pedestrians and two-wheelers, the most vulnerable categories); and a behavioural change towards stricter adherence to safety norms.

Yet despite economic growth, these are sorely lacking in India. Even the medical and police services that could mitigate the costs of accidents are often late and at times non-existent. The unfortunate fact is that concern about and action on these crucial elements seem to have been crowded out in the euphoria over the increasing volume and spread of auto sales.

Can India become a less- accident-prone country? Tell us at