Every year, since 2009, over 1.2 lakh people perish in road accidents in India, and a high percentage of people killed are vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. In 2010 Tamil Nadu alone had accounted for 11.5% of the people killed in road accidents in the country of which the two wheelers, bicycles and pedestrians together formed 34%. Chennai and its suburbs alone accounted for 9% of all road accident fatalities in the state. By collating the accident data of suburbs and the city, it has been found that the total number of accidents has marginally decreased from 8234 in 2010 to 8198 in 2011 but the number of fatalities has increased from 1415 victims to 1504 victims in the respective years.
The turbulent trend of the affected parties in the city due to road accidents ? from 2006 to 2010 — shows pedestrians and cyclists together constitute 33% and people driving two wheelers alone form 30% of the people affected in road accidents. Thus, the travellers on two wheelers, pedestrians and cyclists form the most vulnerable group of road users in the city.
Between 2006 and 2010, twenty three arterial roads had accounted for 47% of all the road accidents in the city. And alarmingly, three roads, namely Anna Salai, EVR Periyar Salai and Inner Ring Road together were involved in 18% of all road accidents. Again, about 29% of the people affected by the road accidents on these three roads were pedestrians and in about 39% of the cases, two-wheelers were involved. Since these three roads are maintained by the state highways department and a large part of the Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL) plies on this route, the concerned authorities need to be more cautious while designing accessibility to the stations and facilitate transition from one mode of travel to the other for the safety of the targeted users.
Last year about 38% (551) of the people killed by road accidents in the Greater Chennai were pedestrians and about half of them were above the age of 50. The two wheelers have been a major cause of the fatalities, killing 25% of these victims, while trucks mowed down 270 and the metropolitan transport corporation (MTC) buses fatally knocked out 122 people.
To combat this menace of increasing road accidents, the Tamil Nadu government created a road safety policy in 2007 which it implemented with an action plan in 2009. The long term vision of the policy is to reduce the number of road accidents, injuries and deaths by remedial measures in the areas of engineering, enforcement, education and emergency care with a goal of 20% reduction of fatalities and injuries by 2013, considering 2006 as the base year. To implement this effectively, the government formulated a road safety committee in each district.
In Chennai, this committee carries out a complex job of coordination between more than 15 government agencies and civil society organisations, looking into the various aspects right from road construction and maintenance to enforcement of traffic laws and traffic management. As part of the action plan, the government, supported by the World Bank and some international consultants, adopted a Geographical Information System (GIS) based software called Road Accident Data Management System (RADMS) which allows the State Traffic Planning Cell to map the locations of all recorded road accidents on highways, district roads and urban roads. The RADMS software is being used in 1400 police stations across the state and has helped to identify 3000 accident-prone spots. The Transport department has implemented road safety measures that were based on this analytical data and claims to have brought down the number of fatalities from 13.39 per 10,000 vehicles in 2006 to 10.09 in 2010. Also, the Chennai city traffic police maintains 425 zebra crossings, 185 speed breakers (though bumpy) and 327 mid-block crossings in the city to ease at-grade crossing for pedestrians. Apart from this, several neighbourhoods also build and maintain traffic calmers in their neighbourhood.
But during this period, the state also witnessed a 40% increase in the number of registered vehicles which means that the number of fatalities has not actually reduced.
Another important point is that pedestrians constitute a large percentage of trips made in Chennai. According to the second master plan of the city, the estimated number of trips per day is around 13.3 million in Chennai Metropolitan Area (CMA) of which almost 33% are made by walk, 19% by two wheelers and 26% by public transport. But the city municipal corporation maintains footpaths only on 830kms of roads out of a total length of 2500kms of roads in the city. As per the Indian Road Congress (IRC), the minimum width for a footpath should be 1.5 metres ? unobstructed, but the city has more than 52% of the footpath measuring less than 1.5 metres and are riddled with several obstacles like utility boxes, lamp posts, trees, and parked vehicles. There are only about 25kms of pavements in the city that partially comply with the IRC standards. Besides this, there are only 25 subways and 32 foot over bridges (FOBs) in the city for pedestrians to cross the roads. However, most of these bridges and subways do not facilitate the disabled, the elderly, children and women who find it difficult to use these bridges. The FOBs are also inconvenient to access since they are located far away from the bus stops, railway stations and other such high pedestrian traffic areas where they would have made a difference. Similarly, the Chennai traffic police maintains 218 traffic signals of which only 39 facilitate pedestrian movement. Moreover, even these 39 crossings do not have long enough wait times for a disabled person to cross.