Not many know that Tamil Nadu has a Road Safety Fund for the past four years. A little over Rs.76 crore has been spent on improving road safety over this period. The Road Safety Policy adopted by the State in April 2007 envisages a 20 per cent reduction in fatalities and injuries by 2013, considering 2006 as the base year.

However, in the last four years, the number of fatal accidents in the State rose by 14 per cent. As a result of this mismatch between fund allocation and quantifiable results, Transport Commissioner M.Rajaram has recently written to all the District Collectors asking them for a “feedback report on the prevention of road accidents”.

The detailed questionnaire includes engineering, enforcement, education and emergency relief aspects. A consolidated report from each district is expected by July 10.

Details obtained from the Transport Department on what the Rs.76 crore has been spent on shows that a predominant share has been used to buy “road safety equipment” such as road signs and cat's eye reflectors, many of which should have already been in place in a well designed road. Money has also been spent in the purchase of “computer peripherals” (Rs.4 lakh) and “renewal of BSNL annual maintenance contract” (Rs.27 lakh).

N.S. Srinivasan, former Director of the National Transportation Planning and Research Centre, says, “A road safety fund must be utilised very selectively. Things like signalisation of junctions and providing barricades must come from the capital expenditure allocated to the police. Thrust areas must be defined and specific factors that lead to accidents must be scientifically tackled by a technical team headed by a full time safety commissioner.” He added that the public and NGOs must be involved in the organising of awareness events instead of the Department “handing out pamphlets and displaying banners which have proved ineffective”. More than Rs.3 crore has been spent from the Road Safety Fund on awareness campaigns over the past four years.

Calling for a sustained and institutionalised approach to road safety, P.K. Sikdar, Director of the New Delhi-based Central Road Research Institute, said “Spending on road safety must be able to show a difference in the number of accidents. A true road safety week celebration is one in which a drive is taken to achieve zero traffic violations at least in that week.” Insisting that concerted efforts have to be taken to change the behaviour of road users, he said “Some States have been able to develop a network of ambulances as a result of which any accident spot is reached within 15 minutes. Automated over-speeding sensors have also been shown to work.”

Mr.Rajaram admitted that there have been some shortcomings and said “A critical study will be undertaken based on the report from the District Collectors. Road safety is a life saving and perhaps the most important programme of the Department. Doing things just for the sake of utilising funds is unacceptable. Remedial actions based on analysis will have to be shown.”

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