India is celebrating the 35th National Road Safety Month from January 15 to February 14, 2024. The theme, ‘Be a Road Safety Hero’, is particularly resonant for the newly elected government of Rajasthan. This presents an ideal opportunity for Rajasthan to emerge as a national leader in road safety by innovating policies for speed management and two-wheeler safety, and by ensuring the timely passage and implementation of the Rajasthan Road Safety Bill, 2022. These initiatives are vital for tackling the increasing rates of traffic accidents, injuries, and fatalities, especially among youth and the more vulnerable sections of society.
Rajasthan boasts a vast road network of around 2.69 lakh kilometres, accounting for 4.6% of India’s total road network. This includes 20 National Highways and 170 State Highways. The state recorded over 2 crore registered vehicles in 2021, with two-wheelers making up a significant 76% of this total. Despite these numbers, Rajasthan has experienced a concerning trend in road safety.
In 2021, the state registered approximately 20,951 accidents, leading to 19,344 injuries and 10,043 deaths. These statistics place Rajasthan at a high national rank in terms of road accidents and fatalities, with a daily average of 57 accidents and 27 deaths. The increase in the rate of accidents, injuries, and fatalities is alarmingly high, underscoring the urgent need for effective road safety measures.
Road safety in Rajasthan
The severity of road accidents in the state is increasing, with the rate of deaths per 100 accidents rising from 36 in 2009 to 48 in 2021, surpassing the national average. A significant portion of these fatalities involves two-wheeler users, who are particularly vulnerable. The lack of helmet compliance has led to a substantial number of these fatalities and injuries. Speeding is identified as a major contributing factor to road deaths in the state, necessitating the formulation of speed management guidelines.
The grim statistics in Rajasthan mirror a global trend. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.25 million people lose their lives annually on roads, making it the leading cause of death for young people aged 5-29. This tragedy transcends national borders, demanding a concerted international effort. The United Nations’ “Decade of Action for Road Safety” (2021-2030) calls upon nations to implement evidence-based interventions, emphasising five pillars: safer roads and vehicles, safer speeds, better laws and enforcement, safer road users, and post-crash response. Rajasthan’s initiatives, if successful, can become valuable models for developing countries grappling with similar challenges.
Rajasthan’s transport sector
The transport sector’s contribution to India’s GDP is notable, but in Rajasthan, the positive economic impact is offset by the high costs associated with road accidents. This highlights the need for effective road safety measures to make the road transport sector both safe and economically viable.
Rajasthan, with its significant share of India’s population and land area, is making progress in socio-developmental indicators but is lagging in SDGs related to safe transport and road quality. The state’s performance in reducing road accident deaths is crucial to its overall SDG score.
The Government of Rajasthan has set ambitious targets to reduce road accidents and injuries by 50% by 2023. However, to achieve these targets, the state requires a more structured and strategic approach. This includes better utilisation of the State Road Safety Fund and a more systematic implementation of road safety initiatives.
The future of road safety in Rajasthan depends on innovative policy reforms, significant engineering improvements, and effective enforcement of behavioural risk factors, including speed management. This requires a comprehensive approach, involving the review of state speed limits, setting standards for children’s helmets, and enacting a dedicated road safety act. The Government of Rajasthan must take swift and decisive action to improve its road safety record and protect the lives of its citizens.
The fight for safer roads requires a collective spirit. Beyond Rajasthan’s borders, India itself stands at a crossroads. The country accounts for one out of five global road fatalities, demanding urgent action. By addressing systemic issues like speed management, two-wheeler safety, and infrastructure deficiencies, India can set a regional example for road safety excellence. Moreover, global knowledge sharing and collaboration are crucial for accelerating progress. Rajasthan’s journey towards safer roads holds significance not just for its own citizens but for millions across the globe who dream of a world where mobility does not equate to a deadly gamble.
(Madhu Sudan Sharma is Senior Programme Officer at CUTS International, a leading policy research and advocacy group.)