India Can't Afford to Lose Any More Lives Due to Road Crashes

India’s streets are notoriously dangerous. However, a new bill being passed through the Indian government offers hope to the country’s road safety problems. Photo by Gilbert Laszlo Kallenborn/Flickr

Globally, 1.3 million people die each year in road traffic crashes. India, with only 2 percent of the global motor vehicle population, accounts for more than 10 percent of those fatalities. Further, in 2014 about 141,000 people lost their lives on India’s roads—which is 3 percent greater than the fatalities in 2013. With one fatality roughly happening every 4 minutes, Indian road are considered some of most dangerous roads in the world.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data of road crashes makes clear that most victims tend to be in the age group of 15 to 45 years, putting an immense burden on families who often lose their breadwinners. Some studies have estimated that India loses 3-4 percent of its GDP every year due to traffic crashes.

It is also estimated that cities account for 20 percent of total road traffic fatalities in India; moreover, in cities, the majority of those who die in crashes are pedestrians and cyclists. Therefore, one of the biggest deterrents to sustainable transport in Indian cities is the issue of road safety.

Road safety requires a holistic, systemic approach, but the current legislation that governs road safety in India is the outdated Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) 1988. This three-decade old legislation was originally drafted in 1939 and was revised in 1956. The MVA 1988 was drafted and introduced when motor vehicle growth and economic reforms had just started in India—but this was before widespread congestion, and most of the act centers around facilitating the growth of motor vehicles instead of safety. Unfortunately, various committees and sub-committees have been formed by former officials to amend the MVA without success.

In August of last year, the National Government of India presented the new Road Transport and Safety Bill for public comments, and is expected to table the policy for discussion in the winter session of parliament starting November 25, 2015. The draft bill presents a paradigm shift from simply governing the movement and operation of motor vehicles to proactively safeguarding the interests of all road users, as well as the economy. In short, the bill gives high priority to road safety in a deliberate effort to protect all road users.

It will be interesting to see the discussion around the bill in the parliament—but one thing is for sure: India has lost far too many lives on roads, and the time has come to address it.

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