India Is No1 in the World– My Condolences!
No, I have not used the wrong “C’ word.
 
India has the highest number of road accident deaths in the world, accounting for 11% of such deaths worldwide.
 
Records show that some 151,113 people were killed and 126,759 grievously injured in road accidents in 2019, and this is not a freak number. 
 
This happens every year. In fact, these numbers did actually reduce slightly in 2019 compared to earlier years. 
 
In 2020, COVID-19 took almost the same number of lives in India. 
 
The fear of death changed the lifestyles of people, drove the economy into a recession and energised people into taking seemingly unthinkable precautions.
 
But COVID-19 is (hopefully) a one-time disaster, now nearly in control. But death in road accidents is a continuing occurrence. People do not seem to fear road accidents!
 
This is not only an unbearably tragic loss to our nation, but a huge economic loss as well. I will not dwell on the emotional aspect of this tragedy, but only a little bit on the economic side of it.
 
The government has proposed a compensation of Rs5 lakh for death, and Rs2.5 lakh for grievous injury, in a road accident. 
 
To my mind, Rs5 lakh does not come anywhere close to the earning potential of a young man for his entire working life. But let me yield to the judgement of the government. Perhaps this number is the maximum ‘affordable’ amount for our country.
 
The total cost of road accidents is huge. The transport ministry’s report on road accidents mentions an independent study, which found that the socio-economic cost of road accidents in India in 2018 was Rs1,47,114 crore, equivalent to 0.77% of the nation's GDP. 
 
This is almost twice the transport ministry’s annual budget in 2018-19.  Big number, huh?
 
Another fact – a little over 50% of COVID-19 deaths fall in the 60+ age group, (people like me, whose contribution to the economy is over and done with - writing articles doesn’t count), whereas an overwhelming 84.3% of people killed in road accidents fell in the 18-60 years age bracket, the most productive age. 
 
Bottom line—road accidents kill our productive citizens and cost nearly Rs1.5 lakh crore annually.
Why do these accidents happen?
 
The overwhelming reason is over speeding – 74%. 
 
And who are the culprits? 
 
The biggest ‘crime vehicle’ (government term, not mine) is the two-wheeler, accounting for 34.2% of the accidents and 37% of the deaths. 
Trucks, which are by far the leaders in terms of vehicle-km numbers, account for 20%. 
 
And the hapless pedestrians, who perhaps just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, form the second biggest group of accident death victims – 17.1% of the deaths.
If you want to know all the details about road accidents, and there is plenty of it, here’s the link: https://morth.nic.in/sites/default/files/RA_Uploading.pdf
 
Now, let’s think about what can be done to stop this colossal waste. 
 
The government is trying, no doubt, but this is a behemoth of a problem that takes enormous effort to nudge, let alone move. 
 
State governments are involved, and they are sometimes strangely reluctant to bring in stiffer laws. An obvious example – driving licences.
 
It is still ridiculously easy to get a driving licence in India. When I returned to Kolkata I found that renewing my long-expired Maharashtra licence was a herculean task which required going to Mumbai and staying there for a long time. 
 
So, I applied for a new licence. 
 
The biggest problem, you may not believe, was not establishing my physical ability to drive (at age 60), nor my driving skills. For the former, a doctor gave me a certificate without any examination, and even complimented me on how fast I had filled up the form. 
 
For the latter, I had to appear for a ridiculous driving test, which required me to drive 100 meters around a small park, and the examiner was not even watching me! 
Strangely, I had a hell of a time establishing my address – that was the difficult part. 
 
Later my friends told me that I had been stupid. 
 
A 'Mr Fixit' would have delivered my licence to me at home, without my having to do anything except sign a blank form, for a very 'reasonable' amount.
The government says that 30% of Indian driving licences are fake. 
 
Unfit people are riding and driving motor vehicles. I wonder how we manage to get by with ‘only’ 1.5 lakh deaths and Rs1.5 lakh crore loss!
So what do we do about it? Tougher laws? Hard to enact, even harder to enforce. 
 
Make people understand? You must be joking. 
 
Put more cameras and cops on the roads? Sorry, no money. Then what?
 
The only thing that really motivates people in India, and makes them obey, is fear. Here is how fear can be instilled in peoples’ minds, so that they follow the rules.
 
If a traffic cop spots any traffic violation – over speeding, lane breaking, no helmet, or three on a bike, just let the air out of the tire(s), one tire in case of a motorbike, and two tyres if the vehicle has a spare. There is no need for challans, court case, fines, arguments…. stuff that takes up administrative time. 
 
Actually, many people do not care much about fines. They treat it as ‘cost of using transport’, just as bribes are regarded as ‘cost of doing businesses. 
 
Even the loss of a licence is not actually punitive – you can always pay “Mr Fixit” to have another one made for you.
 
But if you have ever pushed a bike with a punctured tire in the hot sun, you will understand what I mean. A car with two flat tyres is not much fun either. If there is any real deterrent to ignoring traffic rules, this is it. 
 
I know - probably too zany an idea. There will be many protests, some human rights activists will run to the courts, and unethical traffic cops will miss their bribes. But it will work, I believe.
 
This out-of-the-box idea apart, what I am trying to say is this: road accidents are costly in human and money terms, innocent bystanders get hurt apart from the lawless driver, and most importantly, the nation loses many productive citizens. 
 
Mr Gadkari is trying his best, but it is about time we do our bit, too.
 
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)
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    COMMENTS

    ragup

    3 weeks ago

    Interesting idea. It will work well for two wheelers but not so much for cars as there are inexpensive manual and electric tyre inflators now.

    pmbhate

    1 month ago

    It is "Rules, guidelines and laws are for everyone else, not for me" attitude that is ingrained from childhood - parents cruising past red lights and driving on the wrong side of the road with their child/children while dropping them off to school. People honking at you from behind and then glaring at you while overtaking you while you are waiting for the light to turn green; most of them being owners driving their vehicles and not chauffeurs. People driving through a one-way street going the other way because it saves a bit of distance. Given these widely observed behavioral traits displayed by so-called educated persons, what can you expect from the average riksha/taxi/bus/truck drivers? Sadly, India will continue to be No 1.

    tillan2k

    1 month ago

    when foot paths are occupied by hawkers or by extended shops and vehicular track is occupied by parking remaining single track is be shared by overflowing carefree mobile addicted population and reckless drivers. infact looking at chaos on roads i have wondered why so few fatal accidents until it was clarified that due to chaos speed of vehicles is low so less people die

    yerramr

    1 month ago

    In Hyderabad more than 50% of taxi drivers studied less than Xth standard. Most scooter drivers - the youth - reflecting their age - overconfidence, drive very fast and most without masks and helmets, many a time right in front of the Traffic Police Stations!! Some irresponsible parents even give their scooters to the kids to drive. They do not seem to care their children getting hurt or dieing!!

    REPLY

    tillan2k

    In Reply to yerramr 1 month ago

    taxi driver less than Xth and traffic police still worse lowest IQ and lest diligent on duty glued to mobile screen more so if She police . roads and foot pathhs occupied by hawkers and extended shops

    jayaramm51

    1 month ago

    The letting out of air from tires was the SOP, in Coimbatore in the 60's for all basic transgressions of the law - especially for cyclists crossing the railway lines with closed booms; inside the city; speeding near schools and public places for two wheeler s. Pedestrians were given a dressing down talk - for crossing at places other than the zebra locations. Your condolences : however, pales in the face of over riding self importance and in karma ?

    REPLY

    Amitabha Banerjee

    In Reply to jayaramm51 1 month ago

    Dear Mr Jayaram, please let us know the outcome of the SOP in Coimbatore. Did it succeed in getting people to follow the rules?

    gbrhyd

    1 month ago

    There are two things, one is to construction of roads with international standards and another is speed limits. Every one should follow either government or public, then only we can control road accidents.

    Amitabha Banerjee

    1 month ago

    74% of the accidents are caused by over speeding. better roads are essential - agreed, but better roads will not stop over-speeding,

    If people don't follow rules, there is little any Government can do. See COVID. The death ratio in the US is fare higher than in India, basically because Indians listened to authorities and took precautions, but Americans didn't.

    REPLY

    tillan2k

    In Reply to Amitabha Banerjee 1 month ago

    wher have u over speeding in city roads

    beaumind

    1 month ago

    First, get the roads fixed and up to the international safety standards from the huge tax chest of the govt. Before having done this, don't suggest yet one more shifting of responsibility to the people from the government. It amounts to 20th century thinking.

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