New Delhi: Government data underestimates pedestrian and motorcycle deaths, according to a study led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which analysed National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2013 and 2014. The researchers noted that pedestrian deaths only accounted for 5% of deaths due to road accidents in India, according to official statistics, which is unusually low for a country where walking is the most common means of transportation.
Although the study was conducted in one district, the study notes that the process of reporting in this district is similar to that used by all districts in the country. The authors also reviewed previous studies on road accident deaths in India that were based on population surveys, hospital reports and autopsies. On average, pedestrians accounted for 30% of road accident deaths in these studies compared to 13% of deaths due to road accidents in official statistics for the same time period. Motorcycle riders make up 36% of road accident deaths in other data sources, but only 20% in official reports.
According to the study, official government statistics on road accident deaths in southwest India significantly misrepresented the number of pedestrian and motorcycle deaths in the region over a two-year period, casting doubt on the reliability of that country’s government data on traffic fatalities.
Researchers compared police reports in Belgaum, Karnataka, with statistics released by NCRB in 2013 and 2014. They found that while official statistics reported pedestrian deaths in the district as 9% of total deaths due to road accidents, their review of police reports put the number at 21% for the district. NCRB data also showed that motorcycle deaths accounted for 37% of road accident deaths, while the researchers found the number was 49%.
The findings were published on Thursday in the journal Injury Prevention.
“Our study suggests that taken together pedestrians and motorcyclists account for the vast majority of traffic deaths in India," said Kavi Bhalla, an assistant professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School and the study’s lead author. “The official national statistics for 2014 put the proportion at less than a third. The Indian government claims that they intend to cut traffic deaths by half, but this is impossible to achieve without knowing how people die on the roads," Bhalla added in a press release.
Interestingly, the researchers highlight that there was not much difference between the total deaths due to road accidents and the official statistics for the district. In 2013, the NCRB reported 742 road accident fatalities in Belgaum district, while the district’s records analysed by the researchers put them at 759. The researchers concluded that the data difference at the final stage comes from misclassification.
“These vulnerable groups need to be protected by providing appropriate infrastructure, such as sidewalks, raised crosswalks and segregated lanes," said Bhalla. “However, the Indian government’s highway spending has focused primarily on making roads wider and faster, and thus much more dangerous for these vulnerable groups," added Bhalla.
Pedestrian deaths in India accounted for only 5% of the total 140,000 deaths due to road accidents, as compared to more than 40% in neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan. In countries with similar levels of economic development, pedestrians account for 40% of all road accident deaths, the study notes.
Study authors conclude that government statistics on deaths due to road accidents among different types of road users should not be used for research and policy decision-making.