With yet another Road Safety Week coming to a close, it is time to take stock of the number of accident-related fatalities that occur on city's roads.
On the face of it, Chennai's accident graph seems to be stabilising over the last three years. The number of deaths due to road accidents has been around 600 between 2008 and 2010. However, what the numbers do not reveal is the fact that Chennai's traffic jurisdiction was reorganised in 2008 and a suburban traffic Commissionerate established. If suburban figures are included, then fatalities in the city in 2010 increase to 1,415, the highest in the last 10 years. In fact, between 2000 and 2010, the number of fatal accident cases has almost tripled.
Suburban areas are emerging as the hotspots of accidents due to the preponderance of highway traffic that feeds the city. G. Karthikeyan, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Suburban, said that unlike the city, most outlying areas are poorly lit at night.
“Poor illumination on roads such as Kundrathur Road and GNT Road is a major cause of accidents. As the city grows, outlying localities are experiencing a mix of urban as well as highway vehicle movement. Prevalence of highway traffic along pedestrian crossing points is a major worry,” he added.
Chennai's fatality rate puts it second on the list of metropolitan cities that experience the most number of road accidents, a comparison of official figures reveals. New Delhi, a much bigger city, recorded 1,978 traffic fatalities in 2010.
Fatality rates within the city have dropped largely due to traffic congestion that has reduced vehicle speeds. The average vehicle journey speed dropped to around 20 kmph on most arterial roads by 2008, according to the Chennai Traffic and Transportation Study.
A. Veeraraghavan, Transportation Engineering Professor at IIT-Madras, said that any mitigation measure required proper investigation of each accident, grouping similar incidents, analysing them and implementing effective intervention measures. During last year's Road Safety Week, the government ordered the constitution of an inter-departmental team of officers comprising the traffic police, Transport and Highways Department with instructions that “the teams shall visit the accident spot on the same day or at the most very next day, make a comprehensive study from different angles and make specific recommendation/measures to avert such accidents in future”.
The inter-departmental team is still not in place. Rash drivers, who commit fatal accidents and those booked for drunk driving, also seem to get away easily. Though Chennai witnessed 604 road accident deaths in 2010, drivers' licence of less than 100 persons were suspended by the traffic police. Only two had to face cancellation of their licence.
Acknowledging the magnitude of the problem, Transport Commissioner M. Rajaram said the department would adopt the slogan, ‘Road safety forever,' and continue to work on safety-related measures throughout this year. “Outreach campaigns will be organised at the school and college level all through the year. Road safety will be observed not as a ritual, but as a passion,” he added.