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Getting children to be the torchbearers for road safety reforms

Rutam Vora | Updated on March 12, 2020

The behavioural observations from drivers who have experienced accidents suggest that clear weather ironically is the bigger culprit than foggy conditions, as one would otherwise believe   -  PRABHASROY

Experts at an Ahmedabad conference believe that lessons should be part of school curricula

These are grim facts that just cannot be wished away. Every year, India is home to five lakh road accidents which snuff out 1.5 lakh lives. Beyond the trauma inflicted on the bereaved, the economic costs are prohibitive, too. These home truths were part of the recently held National Motor Vehicle Accident Conference (MoVACon) in Ahmedabad, where experts drove home the reality of fatalities in road accidents. The second edition of the conference, held after 12 years, will prepare a white paper on Indian road safety and submit presentations to the Centre for effective policy intervention.

Experts at the meet said it is important to reach out to youth for carrying home the message of complying with road safety rules. A 10-year-old kid advising his father not to jump a signal or a teenage girl insisting that her grandmother walk in an ‘L-shaped’ direction to diagonally cross a traffic junction are some of these idealistic goals. SK Nanda, former Additional Chief Secretary of the Gujarat Home Department and patron for the organising body of MoVACon 2020, reiterated the need to sensitise school children and youth for a transformative change in road safety compliance.

“As long as we do not sensitise them about the rules and their implementation, future generations will continue to be at risk of accidents.

These kids can be the torchbearers to bring in new reforms in road safety compliance,” he said. Experts were also of the view that the NCERT would need to make road safety a key part of the syllabus for schools to ensure a nationwide impact.

Nanda said it is necessary to understand the nature and causes of road accidents. Statistics show that of every 100 accidents, 70 are caused by human error — be it over-speeding, drunken driving, brake failure, not wearing helmets/seatbelts or overtaking from the wrong side. Only 4 per cent of accidents are caused by structural issues such as road conditions. Those who die are mostly in the age group of 19-40 years, said Nanda. It is also a matter of great concern that India accounts for 6.5 per cent of the global deaths due to accidents.

This message is loud and clear: to correct a human error, human intervention is the best bet. Some schools have already implemented road safety awareness campaigns. However, these are experiments which run on the whims and fancies of the school management and are, hence, ineffective.

Subroto Das, CEO and Founding Trustee of Lifeline Foundation, Vadodara, said unlike emergency care or road designing/building, which are scientific evidence-based, this is not the case with road safety. It is also his belief that awareness on this subject cannot be a weekly affair but a 24-hour on-the-road drive. Besides human intervention, experts have also realised the importance of putting evidence-based scientific intervention on the policy front.

A behavioural study of drivers of different age-groups, and a psychological analysis during different hours and places of travel, can be effective tools to formulate policies for better road safety.

The behavioural observations from drivers who have experienced accidents suggest that clear weather ironically is the bigger culprit than foggy conditions as one would otherwise believe. This shows that roads and weather are secondary issues while the human factor remains the primary cause of accidents.

Tragically, most road deaths are preventable; it’s just that riders or passengers do not comply with basic safety rules like the helmet or seatbelt.

“If the same person is taken on a boat ride, he will unfailingly have all the safe equipment in place. But when he is on the road, he gets casual about compliance,” rued Nanda. In India, most States strictly enforce helmet rules for two-wheeler riders but not for pillion riders. Likewise, rules may be in place for seatbelts in the front but not for those seated at the back. School bus drivers are compelled to wear seatbelts but this provision is missing for children.

Interestingly, one of the suggestions thrown up doing the meet related to creating a fear psychosis similar to that of “smoking kills”. Here, pictorial displays of injuries, deaths and wreckage of accidents at prominent locations, helmet retailing points, etc would not just serve as a wakeup call to people but frighten them of the consequences of flouting safety rules.

KK Kapila, President Emeritus, International Road Federation, said India could improve its GDP by implementing policies to reduce road accidents.

Cost of accidents

The cost of road accidents to the world economy is $6 billion (₹43,000 crore) a day. For India, it is about 3 per cent of the annual GDP. “Data show that 12 per cent of the world average of all road accident fatalities and injuries happens in India. We had set a target to bring down road accidents by half by 2020,” he said. The good news is that while this was not met, the number has at least not increased.

This is hardly any cause for solace in a country that occupies the top slot in road deaths. It is a statistic that is truly embarrassing, especially when India is on its way to becoming the third largest producer of cars in the world. It is already the No 1 for two-wheelers but safety hardly seems a priority. This is a pity especially when there cannot be anything as traumatic as a life taken away abruptly due to careless driving.

Published on March 12, 2020

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