World's deadliest roads: India's multi-pronged problem
India ranks amongst country's with the highest road accident fatalities and unfortunate statistics related to road accidents shows no signs of improvement. In the aftermath of the tragic death of former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry in a car crash, there has been a renewed focus from people at large on the need for proper safety measures even as Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has time and again focused on this problem at hand.
Recently referring to figures from International Road Federation in a report titled World Road Statistics (2018), Gadkari had highlighted how India fares the worst globally in terms of number of people killed in road accidents. The country is also ranked third in terms of people injured in road accidents. The minister highlighted that this is a cause of grave concern. In the immediate aftermath of Mistry's death, Gadkari has once again underlined the need to have proper safety measures in place, even making seatbelts for rear passengers in a car mandatory while instructing car manufacturers to install beep reminders for all passengers.
How does seatbelt provide protection in case of an accident?
In case of most accidents, there is a chance that the driver or passengers can be ejected from their seat with body parts crashing against the inside of the vehicle, or worse. Seatbelts ensure that even in the worst of cases, those inside a car largely remain in place with the force being dispersed to the stronger parts of the body. Chances of the body hitting against the steering, dashboard, windshield, side doors or back of the front seats is brought down to a large extent. And while airbags tend to cushion the impact in most cases as well, it is the seatbelt that acts as the first line of defense.
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Why are road accidents figures high in India?
There are multiple factors at play which together contribute to making India's roads one of the most unsafe anywhere in the world. Over 1.31 lakh people died in road-related accidents in 2020 alone. While seatbelts can provide a very significant protective role in cars and even in heavy vehicles, much more needs to be done to help the country become safer for motorists.
A large number of motorists in the country are woefully inept in understanding road signs and comprehending the need to follow road regulations at all times. Over speeding, random lane changing, jumping traffic signals and driving in the wrong direction are some of the most dangerous yet common sights on city as well as highway roads in the country.
Driver skill and education
While there has been some improvement in the standard of driving schools and driving test centers, there is still a long, long way to go. Different states have different standards for testing the ability of a person to drive a car and ride a motorcycle with license often issued without a comprehensive analysis. Corruption at RTOs often exacerbate the problem at hand.
In a country as large and diverse as India, it is not possible to closely monitor motorists across city and highway roads at all times. Many metropolitan cities have now installed cameras to check on those flouting road regulations but experts largely agree that most motorists tend to follow rules due to the fear of being penalized rather than for their own safety and the safety of those around. Measures such as suspending driving license, hefty fines and vehicles being impounded - if implemented in a stricter manner - can act as a big deterrent for erring drivers.
Accidents are not always the fault of those behind the wheel or those on the road. The roads may be far from ideal as well. While highways in the country often don't have proper barricading to prevent cattle from entering or warning signs about change in upcoming conditions, city roads are often filled with massive potholes that have resulted in deaths. India has the world's second-largest road network which spans 5.89 million kilometers. But the quality of roads and proper maintenance are often suspect.
Vehicle safety standards
India will soon bring in Bharat NCAP, its own safety test process for vehicles. It could well be a gamechanger as many manufacturers are often accused of offering cars that are either scarce in terms of safety highlights, or have an unstable body structure. Or both. Even recall orders aren't exactly strict among manufacturers in India when compared to countries like the United States and the UK where OEMs face heavy penalties if found guilty of ignoring or going slow on a potential safety issue in their respective car models.