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India's Road Safety Hell: Over 4.61 lakh accidents in 2022

A government report continues to paint a grim picture—the number of fatalities increased from 94,968 to in 2005 to 168,491 last year. Speeding accounted for 72.3 percent of accidents in the country

Published: Nov 30, 2023 12:30:59 PM IST
Updated: Nov 30, 2023 12:48:02 PM IST

India's Road Safety Hell: Over 4.61 lakh accidents in 2022(File) An overturned truck is seen along a road after an accident along the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway near Ahmedabad. Image: Sam Panthaky/ AFP
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways recently put out its 2022 report on road accidents in India, and the numbers are alarming. With over 4.61 lakh accidents, we’re seeing about as many accidents on the roads now as we have since 2005. Distressingly, the number of fatalities has increased notably from 94,968 to 168,491 in the same period. India is the most dangerous country to drive on with more road fatalities than any other nation with 9.5 out of 1 lakh people being killed in these incidents.

The fatalities for every 10,000 vehicles, on the other hand, have consistently reduced since 2011—down to 4.2 in 2020 against 10 in 2011. We are seeing more such incidents because road networks have grown notably, there’s a preference towards private transport and there are more cars on the road.

It’s interesting to note that while national and state highways only account for 5 percent of India’s road network, these roads make for 56 percent of all accidents. Of these, 32.9 percent were from national highways and 23.1 percent on state highways. The main reason for this skew seems to be the higher speeds on these roads. Growing traffic on them is also seeing a rise in accidents.  

The report states ‘speeding’ as the main cause of accidents in the country, accounting for a massive 72.3 percent. The study also argues that this may not be a fully correct representation of the reasons behind these incidents. A lack of education and law enforcement may be among the major drivers.

The recent steps to make more safety equipment mandatory on vehicles and better speed enforcement on highways are positive steps, but this seems to be a grassroots problem if the data is to be believed. A far more stringent driving test, standardised across the nation, should be made mandatory. In fact, some school-level initiatives where driving etiquette is included in the curriculum may be a good step to bring in a culture of safe driving from the grassroots level.

More stringent enforcement is always a good step, but a lack of resources seems to be the largest hindrance to this. This could be addressed by looking at a broader approach where NGOs and private organisations can partner with the government for CSR activities. There could also be better road design and maintenance. This involves better-maintained roads, clearer signages and easier access to arterial roads from highways.

The report also dispels some commonly held myths about road safety in India. Drunk driving only accounts for 2.2 percent of all accidents and using mobile phones is lesser still at 1.6 percent. Also, drivers without a licence or with a learner's licence were involved in 11.8 percent of these accidents. Over 50 percent of drivers in cars weren’t wearing seatbelts and 71 percent of riders on two-wheelers who were killed weren't with helmets.

Also read: The how and why of highway hypnosis

It’s interesting to note that 67 percent of these accidents happened on straight roads which proves that hilly roads or bends aren’t necessarily the only places where you need to be alert while driving. It’s a similar story with weather, where 74.2 percent of accidents occurred in clear air.

Notably, older vehicles aren’t a significant cause of accidents either. Vehicles under 10 years old accounted for 58.8 percent of the deaths. This goes to show that the newer safety equipment fitted on cars over this period hasn’t been especially effective at addressing road safety. Users should be made more aware of how seatbelts, airbags and other safety systems can protect them effectively.

The World Bank estimates that these accidents cost India 3 to 5 percent of its GDP, which is at least Rs8.17 lakh crore in 2022-23. A small percentage of this sum could be invested into creating greater awareness and have far more productive economic benefits. Most of those killed are in the 18 to 45 age group which also leads to a notable loss in the workforce. An indirect fallout also happens to be that many families may be in lower income groups, and the medical costs and loss of the primary earner can lead to them slipping into poverty.

“The Ministry of Road Safety and Highways is committed to implementing robust measures to curb road accidents. We are working tirelessly to improve road infrastructure, enhance road safety education and strengthen enforcement mechanisms across the country. Our focus is on creating safer roads, ensuring better traffic management and fostering a culture of responsible driving,” said Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways.

“However, the responsibility to make our roads safer doesn’t solely rest with the government or the concerned authorities. It is a shared responsibility that extends to each and every citizen of our great nation. I urge you all to prioritise road safety and be proactive in promoting responsible driving habits within your communities and families.”

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