Monday , 11 December 2017

How Safe are we on Our Roads?

The governments have framed many laws and rules. The industry has brought in the latest technologies and solutions.?NGOs have tried to bring about awareness, raise issues and offer solutions. Doctors have tried to save lives. Hospitals have added emergency and trauma care centres. Traffic police have tried to enforce laws and punish the offenders. And yet, nothing, absolutely nothing seems to make our roads safer.

The rate of accidents in India hasn?t shown much decline. On the contrary, it has increased in many places. The reasons are many like uncontrollable traffic, heterogeneous traffic?s movement on the same path, lenient enforcement, lack of a central agency to plan and set uniform standards (as the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways can only work at the macro level for a demand of such magnitude), insufficient number of traffic policemen, lack of a strong political will, lack of light barriers, lack of facilities of traffic policemen, inadequate use of Intelligent Transportation Systems and budgetary constraints among others.

Jagdeep Desai, Architect and Secretary & Founder Trustee of Forum for Improving Quality of Life in Mumbai Suburbs feels lack of training of the enforcement personnel is a major issue here: ?All the enforcement authorities often work from their offices, leaving the real and hard work on the personnel on the ground. The latter, in turn, have hardly, if any, training and focus on soft issues like seat belt, use of mobile phone while driving, no parking zones, etc. Claiming inadequate manpower, they ignore most of the other Central Motor Vehicles Rules. Even the senior officers often have no formal training in traffic management as they simply get transferred from other departments like crime, law and order, etc.?

Technology has often come up with many a solution for our roads but then the decision makers are often not aware of these technologies. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) have been put to optimum use in many countries, including those of Asia, but India is a slow riser. Apart from good and effective signages, there are acoustic pedestrian signals, CCTVs, radars, speed detectors, tamper proof speed controllers, e-challans, control centres to monitor the roads, traffic cones, delineators, bollards, traffic fences, crash barriers, gadgets to alarm a dozing driver or to prevent collision, high security registration number plates, RFID toll cards, permanent road markings and many other technologies waiting to be grabbed for our roads. The point is, can we deploy these without getting entangled in bureaucratic crosswires? And even if we can, where is the centralised agency that can put some method into madness on our roads?

There is also the behavioural angle. We Indians are among the most indisciplined people when it comes to using our traffic facilities. ?Drivers all over the World think they own the roads, and that is why there are traffic rules,? says Desai. Government intervention is needed on many issues. Though one year of the Decade of Action for Road Safety has already elapsed, the government still needs to chalk out the main macro level plans. Including proper traffic subjects in school and college curricula will help too as these will enable to sensitise pupils and students to traffic issues and inculcate in them the right traffic etiquette. The government needs to give more thrust to Mass Rapid Transit systems like Metro and Monorail, even in second tier cities. BRT is another journey that should be sensibly and effectively embarked upon by the government authorities after they themselves study the issue and a city?s demands well.

What demands the most attention is the trauma care that our health institutions provide or fail to provide, and the availability of ambulances at the accident spots. ?You must ask the hospital authorities why so many accident victims die after reaching the hospitals,? Sanjay Arora, Commissioner of Police, Chennai told TrafficInfraTech. While money plays a big role here, lack of state-of-the-art facilities at most of the institutions deprive the affected people of the much needed treatment in the Golden Hour (first hour after the accident in which most lives can be saved if patients are given the right treatment). Dr Satish Shah, Casualty Medical Officer of Mumbai?s age-old and famous Bombay Hospital says in a frank interview, ?It all boils down to money. Government has made it mandatory for us to treat accident victims but is silent on who will foot the bill?.

So then, where do we stand vis-?-vis safety on our roads? We posed the questions on safety the country is grappling with, to experts in various related fields. Road Safety remaining an unachievable goal despite laws having been framed by governments, inadequate laws, inefficient enforcement, indisciplined road users, available technologies and solutions, expectations of enforcement agencies from solution providers and of solution providers from decision makers, coordination among various related agencies and India?s road safety vis-?-vis developed countries were some of the points we discussed with them. We bring to you their views in the cover story. Many aspects of road safety are dealt with by many experts in other stories in this issue.

THE INDUSTRY SAYS

World renowned technologies are present in India: Dalbir Saini, Managing Director, BDI Group

Lack of standards and proper mechanism to make sure the safety manuals are being followed on site are the main reasons we lack in road safety. Though research data from the past has shown that light from the oncoming vehicles is a major cause of accidents, no remedial measures are being enforced on road contractors like installing light barriers on the centre median which can prevent such accidents. Certain vigilant contractors have installed such anti dazzle screens at their own costs. However, until and unless certain lobbying in this regard is carried by the contractors till the government, major change is not possible.

Our laws aren?t inadequate but somewhere, the enforcement agencies are being lenient. It is important to form more and more standards for safety products. Market study shows that any road project in the country has a safety budget ranging between 2-5% of the total project costs. The actual spend on safety is always towards the lower range which shows that the importance for safety is clearly lacking.

World renowned technologies are present in the country either through manufacturers or distributors. The spend on infrastructure is so humungous that today India can afford any and every technology available with the developed countries. However, where we lack is the awareness for these technologies and the mindset towards adopting new ways of getting things done.