Speed kills: A time to remember road traffic accident victims

Road accidents and deaths worldwide
India tops in the number of reported road accident deaths, followed by China and the US.

The world loses a life to road accidents every 24 seconds. Of these, more than 3,000 daily deaths are preventable and avoidable. The World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims has been observed worldwide as a significant advocacy day for road traffic injury prevention.

The theme for the India tops in the number of reported road accident deaths, followed by China and the US. 2020 is “first responders”. It recognises the “selfless men and women who rescue, care for and support victims of road trauma.”

According to the World Health Organisation, road accidents are the leading cause of death among people in the 5-29 age group worldwide. More than 1.35 million lives are lost each year. At least 50 million people sustain injuries. Globally, road accidents are the tenth leading cause of death. Millions of lives can be saved and injuries prevented with well-enforced road safety laws on speeding, drinking and driving, and use of seatbelts, child restraints and motorcycle helmets. Road design, improved vehicle safety standards, and better emergency care also can save many lives.

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India accounts for about 5 lakh road accidents annually, one of the highest in the world. Of these, about 1.5 lakh people die and another 3 lakh become crippled. According to the minister of state for road transport and highways, VK Singh, around 71% of the 4.49 lakh road accidents in India in 2019 were due to over speeding.

According to a government of India report, the country tops in the number of road accident deaths across the 199 countries reported in the World Road Statistics, 2018. India is followed by China and the US. The WHO Global Report on Road Safety 2018 indicates that India accounts for almost 11% of the road accident-related deaths in the world.

Two-wheelers with a share of 36.5% accounted for the largest number of road accident deaths (55,336) in 2018, just as in the previous year. The number of pedestrians killed in road accidents has risen from 20,457 in 2017 to 22,656 in 2018, an increase of about 10.75%. Further, pedestrians accounted for 15%, and cyclists 2.4% of the road users killed in 2018.

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Vulnerable road users; pedestrians, cyclists, and riders of motorised 2- and 3-wheelers and their passengers account for half of all road traffic deaths around the world. A higher proportion of vulnerable road users die in low-income countries than in high-income countries.

A robust mechanism to regulate motor vehicles reduces the number of deaths caused due to accidents. An Integrated road accident database provides data to analyse the causes of road crashes and in devising safety interventions to reduce such accidents.

The 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety convened 1700 delegates from around 140 countries. It was hosted at the request of the UN General Assembly by the government of Sweden in collaboration with WHO, on the theme of Achieving Global Goals 2030, highlighting the connections between road safety and achievement of other sustainable development goal targets.

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The ministerial conference culminated in the forward-looking Stockholm Declaration, which calls for a new global target to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by 50% by 2030. Besides, it invites strengthened efforts on activities in all five pillars of the global plan for the decade of action: better road safety management, safer roads, vehicles and people, and enhanced post-crash care. It also calls for speeding up the shift to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable modes of transport like walking, cycling and public transport. The WHO has been asked to continue production of the series of global status reports as a means of monitoring progress towards the achievement of the 12 Global Road Safety Performance Targets.

Road accidents bring in enormous human suffering and significant economic losses for the victim’s families and societies. Often, road traffic deaths remain an unacceptable price of a careless driver by a bystander.

The Second UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021–2030 is calling on all to “Remember. Support. Act.” It calls to remember more than 3,000 fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends and colleagues lost on the World’s roads today and every day. Injury surveillance data is essential for targeted prevention initiatives. Understanding the geographic distribution of injuries and facilitates will be beneficial.

The data on the relationship between the site of injury and residence over a sizeable geographic area provide evidence for the need to strengthen the last mile connectivity. In a study among 3,280 patients (2005-2010), 88% were injured within 10 miles of home (median 0.2 miles). There were significant differences in distance between residence and location of injury, age and hospital disposition. A large majority of injuries involving children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists, falls, and assaults occurred less than 10 miles from the patient’s residence. Only 77% of MVC occurred within 10 miles of the patient’s residence.

The phenomenon of accidents near home is due to many reasons. Overconfidence of drivers, who doesn’t know or don’t care about the traffic laws and regulations. The tendency for texting while driving, multitasking, not wearing seat belts, sending emails, dialling a call, or eating a snack while coming back home or leaving home early in the morning can lead to an accident. There is a need to remind the drivers to stay alert even when they’re within a few miles of home.

Wrongly parked vehicles along the roadside can be both victims as well as perpetrators of road accidents. A poorly parked car that isn’t aligned with the designated parking area is inviting trouble for the owner because of the general tendency of drivers to go careless while on familiar roads.

Most accidents that occur within residential areas are not only a result of speeding. Distracted driving, long working hours and subsequent physical and mental exhaustion can lead to a lack of attention that is needed for safe driving.

Alcohol plays a critical role in accidents. Residential areas are where underage children often do driving, making the roads dangerous as they are not physically and mentally capable of safe driving.

The Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 2019, presents much-needed amendments to improve road safety. It looks to facilitate citizens ease in their dealings with transport departments, strengthen rural and public transport system and last-mile connectivity through automation, computerisation and online services and provide an efficient, safe and corruption-free transport system in the country.

The Act proposes to increase penalties to act as deterrent against traffic violations. Stricter provisions are being proposed in respect of offences like juvenile driving, drunken driving, driving without a licence, dangerous driving, over-speeding and overloading. Stricter provisions for helmets have been introduced along with provisions for electronic detection of violations.

Ensuring vehicle fitness, provision for the recall of faulty vehicles, establishment of a National Road Safety Board, support for the person who renders emergency medical or non-medical assistance to a victim at the scene of an accident, strengthening of the provisions of the third party insurance, creation of a motor vehicle accident fund, the improved registration process for new vehicles, strengthened driving training process are some of the initiatives proposed in the new Act.

The post-Covid19 reconstruction is an opportunity to prioritise roads that are safe and invest in those modes of transport, particularly healthier, greener and more sustainable ones such as walking and cycling.

(Dr Joe Thomas is Associate Dean, Faculty of Sustainability Studies, MIT World Peace University, Pune.)

Prof. Joe Thomas

Dr Joe Thomas is Global Public Health Chair at Sustainable Policy Solutions Foundation, a policy think tank based in New Delhi. He is also Professor of Public Health at Institute of Health and Management, Victoria, Australia. Opinions expressed in this article are personal.