Rethinking road safety: Integrating safety measures at road level

UN global road safety week
India's road safety strategy must unlock potential of value engineering and innovative approaches to safe travel.

The world is celebrating the seventh UN Global Road Safety Week from May 15 to 21, 2023. This year’s theme is Rethink Mobility. The issue of road safety in today’s context is complex because numerous road-owning agencies and stakeholder departments are responsible for reducing the number of road crashes, injuries, and deaths. These agencies and departments want convergence from bottom to top to arrest the ever-increasing trend of road accidents and fatalities, which are increasing yearly. All the efforts of governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) should be doing more to reduce these numbers due to various other reasons and challenges.

In India, during the year 2020, the total number of road crashes (3,66,138), injuries (1,3,48,279), and deaths (131,714) were significant. The national highways reported 1,16,496 crashes that claimed 47,984 lives, whereas state highways reported 90,755 accidents, causing 33,148 deaths. In urban areas, road crashes numbered 1,40,313, causing 1,25,045 injuries and 42,088 deaths. In rural areas, during the same period, the reported number of road crashes was 2,25,825, causing 2,23,234 injuries and 89,626 deaths.

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Among the top five states, Tamil Nadu (4,584), Madhya Pradesh (45,266), and Uttar Pradesh (34,243) respectively reported the maximum number of crashes, whereas UP (19,149), Maharashtra (11,569), and MP (11,141) respectively reported the maximum number of deaths in 2020. The reported accidents and deaths in Rajasthan were 19,114 & 9,250 respectively; in Karnataka, the reported accidents and deaths were 34,178 & 9,760 respectively; and in Kerala, the reported number of accidents and deaths were 27,877 & 2,979 respectively in 2020.

There are serious concerns about the rise in road crashes, injuries, and fatalities in recent years since the victims are mainly youths and poor and vulnerable road users like pedestrians, cyclists, and two-wheeler users. The Government of India recognizes that road safety needs to be addressed holistically by making the vehicles, roads, and road users’ behavior safer.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has formed and notified rules for almost all the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act 2019 (MVAA 2019) provisions except a few related to child helmets and others. It has formed the National Road Safety Board (NRSB), which will advise on policy, practice, implementation, and enforcement issues to the Government of India and MoRTH.

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The Government of India deeply focuses on the 4Es: Engineering (Road & Vehicle Engineering), Education, Enforcement, and Emergency Care, and is highly committed to significantly reducing mortality and morbidity resulting from road crashes.

Out of the 4Es, the Government of India is looking at the engineering aspect with a renewed approach and propagating the adoption of the concept of ‘Value Engineering’. It is an innovative engineering practice that will play a crucial role in designing, constructing, and maintaining all the ongoing and upcoming national highways in the country. This practice is expected to reduce the cost of the projects as well as ensure better quality and quicker completion.

Role of value engineering

Value Engineering, popularly known as VE, provides numerous alternative techniques for road engineering and safety. VE involves the use of alternative designs, materials, or technology to construct cost-effective projects that improve durability and safety. It accelerates construction without compromising quality, promotes environmental sustainability, and enhances resilience to climate change.”

As per a recent official order from the Government of India to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), other central road-owning agencies and states have been instructed to apply the concept of Value Engineering (VE) to all highways, state highways, and other road-related constructions with immediate effect.

There are several VE techniques that can be adopted for projects. A highway project typically consists of 70 percent material costs, 20 percent machinery costs, and 10 percent manpower costs. Therefore, to achieve an optimum value-engineered highway, emphasis should be placed on material selection and design.

The VE technique proposes innovative use of materials and techniques that can lead to a cost reduction of 5-10 percent. These include the use of treated soil, reduction in pavement composition, minimizing the burning of bitumen, sourcing bitumen and steel from government refineries and private producers, considering 20 percent fly ash in concrete through rate analysis, and utilizing fiber-reinforced polymers including glass/carbon/aramid.

Other VE techniques involve the use of locally available road-building materials, industrial waste, and municipal solid waste landfill for road construction. The use of bonded concrete pavement, short-panelled concrete pavement, and pre-tensioned pre-cast concrete pavement has also been proposed.

Additionally, the use of expansive black cotton soil, reuse of excavated soil, reuse of reclaimed bituminous layer material often discarded along national highways, and the use of fiber-reinforced micro-surfacing as an eco-friendly treatment have been suggested. Other proposed techniques include the use of high-damping rubber bearings, pre-cast structures, soil-stabilized earthen shoulders, construction and demolition waste utilization, and 100 percent recycling of reclaimed bituminous layer material, as stated in the official order.

According to the World Bank report on India’s road construction industry, implementing VE exercises can result in savings of 10-15 percent of the cost of the initially designed project. Considering that India has approximately 1.41 lakh km of National Highways and achieved progress of 37 km per day in development works during 2021-22, the use of VE techniques could significantly reduce the cost of constructing new roads. The order states, ‘Besides this, it also saves time, reduces consumption of road building materials, and minimizes emissions without compromising the performance and durability of the National Highways Asset.’

Investing in road safety highly rewarding.

There is a critical need for financing road safety in India to reduce the number of road deaths (131,714) by half by 2030. It is evident that most countries, including India, spend less than 1 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on road safety investments, despite the cost of poor road safety reaching up to 6 percent of GDP in our country. Therefore, increased investments at all levels are urgently required.

There is ample evidence that investing in road safety pays off. Recent studies have shown that reducing fatalities and injuries due to road accidents could increase the GDP per capita by between 7 percent and 22 percent in low- and middle-income countries.

Apart from the savings achieved through innovative models and methods of road engineering, the road safety funds of central and state governments, corporate social responsibility funds, private sector donors, and philanthropies can also play a pivotal role in mobilizing funds for road safety. All these funds from various sources need to be supported by a strong political will to be better utilized in reducing road crashes, injuries, and deaths in India in a time-bound manner.”

Road safety should be integrated into every stage of designing, maintaining, and constructing all types of roads in India, followed by a strict monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance with safety norms. National and state highways, as well as city roads, should include dedicated safety provisions for vulnerable road users, such as cyclists, pedestrians, two-wheeler riders, persons with disabilities, elders, and children.

Governments should adopt more innovative approaches and state-of-the-art technologies related to the 4Es: implementing and enforcing road safety laws through electronic and physical means, improving engineering aspects of roads and vehicles, and providing education to all road users. The savings generated through these innovative approaches should be utilized for road safety with full transparency and accountability. However, achieving this requires political will and commitment at the highest level.

The financing mechanism for road safety should be strengthened significantly to enable funding from various sources, including public, private, and individual philanthropists at the national, state, and local levels. To accomplish this, conventional approaches to road safety need to be reassessed and closely linked to measures addressing speeding and two-wheeler safety.

(Madhu Sudan Sharma is a Senior Programme Officer and Arnab Ganguly is an Associate Director at CUTS International, a global public policy research and advocacy group. Views expressed are personal.)