India has recorded a significant drop in road crashes and deaths in the first three quarters of calendar   2020 against same time   in 2019. This is partly due to COVID-19 pandemic-prompted lockdowns and people voluntarily not venturing out to prevent transmission.  

"India has seen a 26.48 per cent reduction in road accidents and a 22 per cent drop in deaths in 2020 against 2019…. COVID-19 has contributed to this reduction in accidents and deaths," Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport and Highways, said in a road safety conference.

Road Ministry sources later said the data refers to January to September 2020 against same-period 2019.  

India, which loses almost 1.5 lakh lives every year on account of road accidents, is revising its target to drop the extent of road fatalities by half by 2025 or earlier, instead of the earlier target of 2030, said Gadkari. He cited Tamil Nadu's example recording a continuous drop in road accidents and deaths in the last three-four years.

"It's okay to miss road construction target, but we should try and meet the target of saving lives from road accidents and deaths earlier…," said Gadkari, pointing out that targeting reduction by half means seeing 75,000 deaths every year till 2030.

Reasons for drop

Other contributors to a drop in road crashes include India strengthening road safety measures like increasing penalties for traffic accidents; fixing and redesigning 'blackspots' or spaces identified with large accidents where road design could be changed; bringing in vehicle-safety parameters among others.

States like Tamil Nadu and some highway developers have lowered deaths and accidents through focused interventions like CCTVs surveillance, electronic-challans, and making road safety.

Tamil Nadu has seen fatalities from road accidents drop to 7,278 (for 11 months up to November) in 2020, against 17,218 deaths in 2016; road accidents have dropped to 40,725 (in 11 months of 2020) against 71,431 in 2016; and grievous injuries were down to 3,205 (11 months, 2020) against 82,163 in 2016.  

According to Maj Gen (Retd) Pawan Anand, Secretary-General, Highway Operators' Association of India (HOAI), a body of highway operators and maintainers, the road developers have taken specific interventions like smoothening the sharper curves on highways and seen a significant drop in crashes. More lighting on several highways also resulted in a decline in accidents, said Anand. One of the national highway stretches -- Dharmavaram-Rajahmundri -- saw a 48 per cent drop in deaths and 20 per cent drop in crashes in three years of 2015-2018.

In another move, Uber, along with Lenskart, will provide free or subsidised spectacles to drivers, it was announced. 

All-round awareness

Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister, called for all-round awareness to lower accidents, adding that he had asked his driver to speed up that resulted in an accident. Singh said that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to over 1.5 lakh deaths in about 11 months; road accidents result in as many deaths every year, indicating the scale of the challenge.