The resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly urging all nations to launch a decade of action on road safety from 2011 resonates with India's vulnerable road users. The Global Status Report on Road Safety, published by the World Health Organisation in 2009, reveals that the country leads a group of 10 countries with an appalling record. This small group records over 60 per cent of the 1.3 million road accident deaths reported worldwide. In India, death and disability from accidents have been rising steadily in tandem with motorisation; and the majority of victims are pedestrians, cyclists, and two-wheeler riders. The magnitude of the problem is clear from the report of the Sundar Committee of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways released three years ago. The failure of governments to act in the face of its findings is responsible for the loss of about 100,000 lives each year. The burden of injuries is no less staggering. Even with under-reporting, the number of people injured is five times the number of deaths. Research studies indicate that the actual figure could be 15 times more. Yet very little has been done to implement the road map for safety drawn up by the Ministry's expert committee.
The U.N. resolution urging decade-long efforts should spur the Indian government to end the carnage on the roads. Action in key areas can achieve quick results. These include building better roads, curbing drunk driving, enforcing compulsory use of helmets and seat belts, and strict norms for use of cell phones while driving. Such interventions produce effective outcomes and the central and state governments must accord them high priority. A sizable part of the funds allocated for road safety during the 10th Plan period, and the first three years of the 11th Plan, remained unspent. This is partly because many States have not met mandatory norms for utilisation. The funds, running into several crores of rupees a year, could have financed safety infrastructure, driver training, and modernisation. The hope is that the Road Safety Bill, which is expected to be introduced in Parliament during the current session, will address several long-pending issues. This law must not stop with creating the anticipated National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board, but compel state agencies to become accountable in the areas of infrastructure and enforcement. Meanwhile, there are simple ways of protecting people on the roads. A good start can be made in metropolitan and urban India by investing in pedestrian infrastructure, traffic calming, and public transport. It has been established that such measures lower accident risk dramatically.