Though many in government circles are serious about the issue of road safety, analysis on the effectiveness of awareness drives seems to be lacking. The number of road accident fatalities in the city tripled between 2000 and 2010. Nearly 50 per cent of the victims are either pedestrians or cyclists.

It is that time of the year when road safety acquires prominence and various government departments go on intensive pamphlet-distribution drives. The 22nd edition of the Road Safety Week, usually observed in the first week of January, kicked off with much fanfare on Sunday. But how effective is this annual programme in mitigating accidents and what are the outcomes?

The number of road accident fatalities in the city tripled between 2000 and 2010. Nearly 50 per cent of the victims are either pedestrians or cyclists.

While the fatal accident rate in the State was rising at about four per cent a year, nearly Rs.4 crore was spent on “awareness campaigns” over the last four years. The money came from the Road Safety Fund. All the Regional Transport Offices (RTOs) in Chennai collectively spent more than Rs.2 lakh on printing pamphlets and organising rallies during last year's Road Safety Week alone.

Though many in government circles are serious about the issue of road safety, analysis on the effectiveness of awareness drives seems to be lacking. Dinesh Mohan, coordinator of the Transport Research and Injury Prevention Programme at IIT-Delhi, says that Western Europe and the USA followed a similar strategy until the early 1970s. “They exhorted people to improve their behaviour, but the fatality graph kept rising.”

Mr.Mohan says that studies show that a simple rule such as the compulsory use of helmets by two-wheeler riders can reduce deaths by 20 to 30 per cent. He also suggests the use of reflectors on bicycles and carts and limiting of vehicle speeds to 50 km/hr on urban arterial roads.

He adds that accidents cannot be brought down without making cities more pedestrian-friendly. “A pedestrian hit by a car at 30 km/hr has less than 10 per cent chance of dying, whereas there is an 80 per cent chance of fatality if the vehicle speed is 50 km/hr. In essence, more importance must be given to science in road safety, rather than PR for road safety,” Mr. Mohan says.

A.Veeraraghavan, Transportation Engineering Professor, IIT-Madras, says that since the State now has a Road Accident Data Management System (RADMS), it is easy to form a map and identify where the majority of road accidents are occurring.

This was done in 2009 and 23 killer stretches were identified. But nothing much has come out of it, says Mr. Veeraraghavan. Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Sanjay Arora, who is currently in charge of traffic, said that the number of fatalities on Chennai's roads in 2010 was almost the same as in 2009. “Lack of pedestrian facilities is a major issue. Apart from that, we consider maintaining fatality levels at the same level is a good thing. Every year, four lakh new vehicles are added.”

More In: Chennai