Talk about senseless death. More than 1.3 lakh people died on Indian roads in 2007, giving India the dubious honour of topping the list of road deat
hs across the world. Until two years ago, these figures released by the International Road Federation placed India second behind China. But while China has managed to reduce the number of road deaths from over a lakh to 90,000 or so, in India the situation has worsened. With just 1 per cent of the world's vehicles, India manages to account for 10 per cent of its road fatalities, up from 8 per cent at last count.
Deaths due to road accidents are a problem everywhere. However, it is clear that in India the situation is exacerbated by poor enforcement of traffic laws and myopic policies on the part of our politicians. It is interesting to note that in the United States, which has close to 300 million people and more than 250 million vehicles, the number of deaths per 10,000 vehicles is 1.6, while in India this number, known as the road fatality rate, is as high as 14. In comparison, China has a road fatality rate of about five with almost twice as many vehicles. Besides, in China the fatality rate has seen a downward trend, while in India it is rising. The World Bank has estimated that western countries typically have fatality rates of less than two.
Interestingly, several of these nations, such as the UK and Germany, have a high number of road accidents. However, the number of fatalities from those accidents is minimised in large part due to good medical emergency response units. For instance, in the UK, ambulance response time is set at eight minutes, while on Germany's infamous highways, facilities to request assistance are always less than a mile away. Speedy medical assistance to road accident victims goes a long way towards minimising deaths. Timely and able intervention can also reduce the severity of injury to crash victims. Unfortunately, in India there seems to be little concept of emergency medical services.
This, combined with the police's lackadaisical attitude towards enforcing traffic laws, contributes to the extraordinarily high - and rising - figure, as does the apathetic attitude of passers-by, which stems from a desire to avoid entanglement in police and legal issues. There is no substitute for effective policing if India is to reduce the number of people dying on its roads. Not only do these deaths have a high human cost, the World Bank estimates that they cost India approximately 3 per cent of its GDP. That alone should be enough reason for the police to finally get tough on rash driving and for road safety measures to show up on the government's agenda.
6 months ago