Road safety is back in focus following the unfortunate demise of Cyrus Mistry in a tragic accident on September 4. The concerns can be boxed into two categories: first, those relating to safety provisions inside the vehicle, such as seat belts and airbags, on which there has been considerable discussion in view of the manner in which Mistry is believed to have lost his life; and second, the responsibility of the toll operators, and State and central agencies to ensure that the roads are free of death traps -- a matter which has not received the importance it deserves. Agreements between the government agency and the toll operator must spell out the responsibilities in this regard. At present, this is spelt out in a post-accident scenario and not in a preventive sense.

In the context of vehicular safety, the Centre is proposing amendments to Automotive Industry Standard (AIS) 145 -- that deals with additional safety features such as speed alert systems, manual overrides for central locking, air bags and safety belt reminders for the driver and other passengers. The proposal is open for comments until October 5. On Thursday, the Centre announced that eight-seater vehicles must have six airbags by October next year; it was initially expected to come into effect from next month. Meanwhile, fatal accidents are on the rise. A report on ‘Road Accidents in India 2020’ released in March this year by the Centre shows that while the sheer number of accidents has been declining since 2015, the number of fatal accidents has been steadily rising. About 11.5 per cent of the deaths and 11.2 per cent injuries in 2020 were due to non-use of driver and passenger seat belts, observes the report. Meanwhile, a review of the global New Car Assessment Programme (global NCAP) ratings for cars on India’s roads shows our auto industry in poor light, with very few scoring a full 5-star on crash safety for adults. With our very own Bharat NCAP (AIS 197) – emulating global best best practices – expected to become applicable from April 1, 2023, vehicle manufacturers must pull up their socks. Higher safety features may push up cost of the vehicle, but it’s price worth paying.

Meanwhile, the government and other agencies are culpable as well, as the road safety audit following the Mistry accident shows. The 70-km stretch between Vapi in Gujarat and Manor-Palghar in Maharashtra has more than 30 road safety hazards, including sudden narrowing and lack of clear road signs. Road safety audits, which are mandatory for all highway projects at all stages – design, construction, and operations and maintenance -- should be carried out diligently. Maintenance of toll roads should be monitored closely. With road transport being in the concurrent list, provisions of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 which require States to ensure electronic monitoring and enforcement of road safety on almost all roads should be implemented in right earnest. Our roads are way too unsafe.

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