Asleep at the wheel: On Tiruppur road accident

Even in a country inured to death and mayhem on its roads everyday, Thursday’s crash that killed 19 bus passengers on a national highway, at Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu, comes as a shock. Every day, thousands board government-run and private buses for inter-city travel, placing their lives in the hands of transport operators and the authorities whose duty it is to guarantee road safety. Unfortunately, Central and State officials feel little compulsion to do their duty when it comes to road safety. Those whose lives were snuffed out on the journey from Bengaluru to Ernakulam in a Kerala government bus should not become faceless additions to the list of fatalities on Indian roads. In 2018, that toll was a staggering 1,51,417 lives. A preliminary inquiry points to human error involving the container lorry driver who is suspected to have fallen asleep at the wheel. The probe is also looking at whether the container was overloaded, and lacked an assistant. It is reasonable to assume that a helper would alert a driver to danger. Whatever the proximate factors, the Tiruppur crash highlights the gap that India must bridge before it can hope to bring down road fatalities by at least half during the current decade. In fact, India is committed to achieving such a reduction under the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, and the promise was reiterated by Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari recently, at the Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, at Stockholm.

In spite of amendments made to the Motor Vehicles Act, and new engineering standards enforced for vehicle safety, the risk on the roads is on the rise. State governments responsible for enforcement remain apathetic and their derelict bureaucracies ignore safety laws in cities and highways. The cost of such indifference is borne by families of victims in the form of bereavement, loss of income and enduring trauma. Moreover, the economy is deprived of productivity and output. The latest World Bank assessment of India’s loss from road accidents, which was released at the Stockholm meet, points out that road users between 18-45 years constitute 69% of fatalities. Also, 54% of deaths and serious injuries occur mainly among vulnerable groups: pedestrians, cyclists and two-wheeler riders. In the Bank’s estimate, it will take an additional $109-billion of investment in 10 years to achieve a 50% reduction in road deaths. Mr. Gadkari has focused on removing dangerous ‘black spots’ on highways, making consultants and contractors liable for road conditions, and imposing stiffer penalties for traffic offences. The amended MV Act makes all this possible, but many State governments have baulked at enforcing it. It is imperative that the Centre forms an empowered Road Safety Board at the national level to advise States on all related concerns as envisaged under the MV Act, and makes State enforcement agencies accountable for safety.


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Printable version | Sep 29, 2021 1:29:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/asleep-at-the-wheel-the-hindu-editorial-on-the-tiruppur-accident-and-road-safety/article30883634.ece

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