Speaking at the one-day national level workshop on Road Safety Engineering Measures, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari last week said that the government is committed to reducing the number of road accidents by 50% in the next two years and is employing several measures to ensure the same.
“These measures are geared to tackle the problem through a multi-pronged strategy which include effective road engineering solutions at the design stage, rectification of accident black spots, improvement in automobile engineering, driver education, revision and effective enforcement of laws," Gadkari said. The ministry’s official statement focuses on improvement in existing infrastructure and future planning.
While improving road infrastructure is a welcome move, data shows this alone might not contribute significantly to reducing traffic accidents and deaths.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were over 4.5 lakh cases of road accidents in 2014 which resulted in the death of more than 1.4 lakh people. Of this, only 0.8% of the total cases were due to lack of road infrastructure and constituted less than 1% of total road accident related deaths.
Meanwhile, almost 69% of the total number of road accident cases was due to careless driving, overspeeding or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Poor weather conditions also accounted for significant number of accidents and deaths.
Among states, north-eastern states of Sikkim, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh reported the highest share of road accidents due to lack of infrastructure. Poor infrastructure accounted for less than 2% of total road accident cases and deaths in majority of the states in 2014.
Between 2010 and 2015, incidences of road accidental deaths have increased by an annual average rate of 1.2%. In 2014 alone, road accident deaths rose by 3.6% over the previous year. This is despite the fact that the total expenditure of the ministry of road transport and highways has consistently increased during this period, except for a decline in 2012-13 over the previous year.
As per data from the World Health Organization, estimated road traffic death rate (death per 100,000 population) for India stood at 16.6 in 2013. This was lower than China at 18.8, but higher than Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico, Japan, Singapore, the US and the UK. While better infrastructure is, of course, required, better enforcement and sensitization about traffic rules would go a long way in reducing accidents in the case of India.