Stories behind numbers: Real cost of road crashes

 Harish Nanjappa, in whose honour the Karnaraka government has launched a scheme to provide free treatment to road-crash victims.

Harish Nanjappa, in whose honour the Karnaraka government has launched a scheme to provide free treatment to road-crash victims.

A person lying with eyes tightly shut, blood gushing out of a wound on his body, colour draining, revealing cold blue veins, just became another statistic in the pandemic that road-crash deaths have become, with one death every 3.5 minutes.

Whether it is owing to a swell of smog on Yamuna Expressway or a pothole-ridden road in Bengaluru or a snake bend on a road in Himachal Pradesh, or a poorly driven tractor carrying passengers in the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh, road-crash fatalities occur at an alarming pace every day. In 2001, about 80,000 people lost their lives in this manner. In 2016, the figure nearly doubled to over 1.5 lakh.

As a country, while we added around 22 million vehicles on our roads last year, we failed to protect the human beings whose lives these roads and vehicles are meant to improve. We often boast about India’s great demographic dividend, but are yet to take note that road crashes are the biggest hole in that dividend, wiping out the country’s most productive age group at an alarming rate. People in the age group of 18 to 45 accounted for two-thirds of all road-crash deaths last year.

A lifelong dent

But numbers alone cannot explain the gravity of the situation. Every statistic has a number of our fellow citizens attached to it. Every crash leaves a lifelong dent in the psyche of victims, if they are lucky to survive, and their loved ones. Most of us know what that feeling is like.

When Harish Nanjappa died on a Bengaluru street after writhing in pain for what seemed like an eternity and whispering to bystanders that his organs be donated, we could all feel the shock of his brutal death. The Karnataka government, too, took note and launched the Harish Santwana scheme in his name to provide free treatment to road-crash victims.

While this is a commendable step, another necessary priority to honour those killed in road crashes must be to prevent them in the first place. And despite having the third highest number of road crashes among all cities in India, Bengaluru is yet to take significant preventive action.

Some of these would entail replacing RTOs with a more efficient and transparent driver licensing system, establishing minimum standards and warranties for road design, construction and maintenance, and segregating vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists from fast-moving motor vehicles. Recent efforts to improve footpaths in certain parts of Bengaluru must be extended to other parts of the city and arrangements made to ensure citizens are able to cross roads safely. At the moment, it is life threatening to attempt to cross a road in Bengaluru.

Changing the status quo

Today, we observe the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. People from different walks of life will come together to shine a light on the lives that were lost abruptly and violently in a crash. As someone who has lost a loved one to a road crash, I strongly believe that real remembrance for all the victims would be to challenge and change the status quo.

Results from different countries have proven that a mix of legislative action and building capacity for its enforcement are crucial first steps in any strategy to ensure safer roads. The Karnataka government must support the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016, presently in Parliament, establish an implementation mechanism for the Good Samaritan Law brought last year through our PIL petition in the Supreme Court, and take decisive measures to curb corruption in licensing and enforcement. Only then Harish and many others like him who were lost in an untimely manner to preventable road crashes will be truly remembered and honoured.

(The writer is the CEO of SaveLIFE Foundation, a non-profit organisation committed to improving road safety and emergency medical care across India.)

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Printable version | Oct 3, 2022 10:26:15 am |