A just-released report by the Transport Research Wing of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways on road accidents in India says that both the long-term and current decade trends are depressing.

According to the latest available figures, the number of road accidents has more than quadrupled between 1970 and 2008 from 114,100 to 484,704. Worse, fatalities shot up eight-fold to 119,860 from 14,500, while injuries shot up seven-fold to 523,193 from 70,100.

These figures are against the backdrop of a 64-fold increase in the number of registration of vehicles to 8,9618,000 from 1,401,000 over the 38-year period under consideration and a three-fold increase in road network to 3,621,507 km from 1,188,728 km.

The profile of recent trends too presents a gory picture. The 4.84 lakh accidents in 2008 were 1.1 percent higher than the 4.79 lakh accidents reported in the preceding year. But the number of 1.19 lakh fatalities in 2008 was higher by 4.7 per cent, while injuries were higher by 1.9 per cent over 2007.

The proportion of fatal accidents in the total road accidents increased since 2001 so much so that the severity of accidents in terms of persons killed per 100 accidents increased from 19.9 per cent in 2001 to 24.7 per cent in 2008 given that 1.19 lakh people were killed in 4.84 lakh accidents. The number of injuries (5.23) in 2008 exceeded the number of accidents.

However, these figures do not reflect the severity of the road accidents across the country. The report admits to under-reporting of road accidents, fatalities and injuries. Among the causes listed for under-reporting are police inability to register cases for lack of time, limited manpower and facilities and busy schedules of police stations. But the report is silent on police refusal to register accident cases in the first instance.

The other reasons for under-reporting are that hospitals and general practitioners assign other causes for road accident deaths to avoid police harassment and legal complications.

Among the States, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka which together account for 30.4 per cent of the total number of registered vehicles in 2006, also took the blame for 38 per cent of the total road accidents, 28 per cent of the total number of persons killed and 35 per cent of the total injured in 2008.

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