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Delhi tops in fatal road accidents: CSE      

Posted on 23 Jun 2014

Last updated 28 Jun 2014 00:00:00 +0530

  Delhi, Metro Cities, India, Fatal Road Accident
Indian cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Bengaluru top the list with the highest numbers of injuries and deaths as recorded by the Union ministry of road transport and highways. Mumbai has the highest number of all types of accidents, while Delhi records largest number of fatal accidents among all cities.

HNF Correspondent


As per the recent tally and assessment of road accidents in India, presented by the Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), “about 16 people die and 58 are injured every hour in the country due to road accidents.” The death rate, in fact, is equivalent to wiping out about 40 per cent of the population of a small nation like Maldives in a year, says the CSE report pointing that Delhi has the highest number of fatal accidents among all cities, with five casualties a day.

These are part of a set of latest assessments of road accident risk and accident hotspots in Delhi. Analysis indicates that despite the nominal reduction in total number of accidents over the last two decades, the share of fatal road accidents have increased phenomenally as Indian cities give more importance to high speed roads for vehicles without ensuring safe access for all, say CSE researchers.

Citing instances of the untimely death of the rural development minister Gopinath Munde in a road accident and a young Lineshya and her cardiologist father crushed to death by a speeding bus in Gurgaon, CSE report reminds that tragic statistics are piling up and several recent gruesome incidents have sent shock waves, necessitating immediate intervention for zero tolerance.

The brunt of this harsh fate falls on the very large number of people cycling and walking on the city’s roads, as well as those who use public transport.

“Unsafe roads are a warning against the goals of sustainable mobility practices. Walk, cycle, and public transport will not work if people are not safe, and are injured or die while travelling,” says Sunita Narain, the CSE Director General who herself has recently recovered from a serious cycling accident.

Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s Executive Director, Research and Advocacy, and head of the assessment team, endorses the views of Narain and says, “If any other cause was responsible for so many deaths in Indian cities, it would have led to emergency measures. Neither the rich and powerful nor the poor can escape the fury of our killer roads.

“Our assessment has become necessary at a time when Delhi and other cities are trying to increase their share of public transport along with walking and cycling with the aim of getting clean air, protecting public health, and reducing fuel guzzling and climate impacts,” she added.

Major findings of the assessment made by CSE include the following.

Delhi tops

Cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Bengaluru top the list with the highest numbers of injuries and deaths as recorded by the Union ministry of road transport and highways. Mumbai has the highest number of all types of accidents, while Delhi records largest number of fatal accidents among all cities.

The total number of accidents in 2013 was 9 per cent higher than the 2012 level. The ministry’s Road Accidents in India 2012 shows that on an average, about five road accident deaths occur every day, which includes two pedestrians and two two-wheeler riders. Every week, two cyclists and one car rider dies in Delhi. In 2014 (till the month of May), road accidents had claimed 325 lives during the night and 332 lives in the day time. Violation of rules is rampant – with 329,000 cases of signal jumps, over 14,000 cases of drunken driving and 45,158 cases of over-speeding being reported. Chennai, which follows Delhi in road accident deaths, reports 25 per cent less fatalities.

Study indicates that smaller cities that have newly built highways, show increasing vehicle conflict and accident risks. Lucknow, Vadodara and Agra are some examples.

Explosive trend in Indian cities

As much as 11 per cent of the global road injury deaths occur annually in India alone. These numbers are so high that it amounts to wiping out almost half the equivalent population of a nation like Iceland. But India also displays a very disturbing trend -- over the last two decades, while the total number of accidents and injury shows only a small downward dip, fatalities have increased very sharply. The proportion of fatal accidents in total road accidents is up from 18 per cent in 2003 to 25 per cent in 2012 (as per official data). More people are dying now as cities allow vehicles to have more speed on roads, while depriving people of safe access to these same roads.

Young and productive group at higher risk

Nationally, the young population (till 24 years) constitutes 40 per cent of the victims, other than motor vehicle drivers. In 2012, about 5,879 children in the age group 0-14 years and about 26,709 young adults in the age group 15-24 years were victims of road accidents. The most affected victims other than drivers are those in their most productive phase of life – 25-65 years. As much as 53 per cent of the victims fall in this bracket. The economic, societal and emotional cost of this is enormous.

Pedestrians and cyclists most vulnerable

Globally, walkers and cyclists together make up a quarter of the road injury and death victims. In India, the national database on pedestrians and cyclists is very poor, but data from individual cities shows very high risk. In Delhi, the share of pedestrians falling victims to road crashes is as high as 44 per cent – the highest among key metro cities. According to an IIT study, 51 per cent of the 8,503 fatalities which occurred in road crashes in Delhi during 2006 to 2009 were pedestrians. Among motorised vehicles, two-wheelers are the most vulnerable.

Public health issue

At the trauma centre of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, which can handle only 15,000 cases, almost 60,000 are reported every year, with a 10 per cent annual increase. Approximately 5,000 cases require major operations. Of the total cases reported for injuries, head injuries account for 40 per cent while orthopedic and torso injuries are 30 per cent.  In cases of brain injuries, there is only 40 per cent chance of recovery. Most of the pedestrians who are brought to the trauma centre belong to the lower socio-economic strata.

The recent estimates of Global Burden of Disease (GBD) has changed the way health impacts of motorisation are conventionally understood, by including deaths and illnesses from road accidents as well as air pollution within its ambit. The GBD report ranks road injuries as the world’s eighth leading cause of death and the number one killer of young people aged 15 to 24. If deaths due to road injuries and air pollution from vehicles are combined, then they exceed the tally from HIV, tuberculosis or malaria. The World Health Organization (WHO) now classifies disability, unproductive life years, and premature deaths related to road injuries as a significant health impact of motorisation.

Policy flaws and weaknesses

 The National Urban Transport Policy is weak on safety of road users, especially pedestrians and cyclists.

 The National Road Safety Policy, 2010 is an ineffective policy. For its implementation, the government has to set up a National Road Safety Board and a National Road Safety Fund to finance road activities.

 The National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board Bill 2010 is pending in Parliament. This has proposed a National Road Safety Traffic Management Board to oversee road safety and traffic management in India.

 The Motor Vehicles Act 1988 has rules that are oriented towards motorists’ safety and to prevent accidents (speed limits, dangerous driving, use of protective gears etc). Its weak enforcement hampers policy implementation; fines and penalties are minimal.

 The safety of disabled-friendly road users is not ensured.

 Most of the IPC provisions for causing deaths due to road accidents are bailable.

 Guidelines for pedestrian facilities and street design exist, but these are voluntary.

Yet there are legal provisions that can be leveraged to make a difference. Provisions in existing laws have a bearing on pedestrian safety. But they are not harmonised for effective implementation.

 The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 empowers state governments to make rules that prohibit the use of footpaths or pavements by motor vehicles. This also cautions against danger, injury to the public, etc. This is rarely enforced.

 The Rules of the Road Regulations, 1989, include right of way for pedestrians at uncontrolled pedestrian crossings. The regulations specify, Motorists cannot drive on footpaths or tracks; while approaching a road junction or pedestrian crossing, a motorist must slow down; no parking on pedestrian pathways; Motorists have to strictly stop at the stop line at junctions/pedestrian crossings. But these provisions are not used effectively.

 Municipal bye-laws to protect footpaths

 Street Vendors Act and Rules provide for designated space for vendors.

Best practices

Globally, countries are moving towards zero tolerance policy on accidents and transforming urban and road design for safety. Many Western European and high-income countries in the Asia-Pacific region have reduced their burdens even more dramatically. Japan reduced its disease burden from road injuries by 42 per cent between 1990 and 2010, and Sweden lowered its burden by 30 per cent. Case studies of interventions, policies, regulations, and institutional capacities to deliver them in these high-achieving countries could help elucidate key lessons that other nations can follow.

According to the WHO, the middle-income countries have the highest annual road traffic fatality rate at 20.1 per lakh population; the rate is 18.3 per lakh population in low-income countries. The lowest fatality rate is in high-income countries at 8.7 per lakh population. But several high-income countries have much less numbers of cyclists and pedestrians than India and other developing nations.

Sweden’s Vision Zero road safety policy: Sweden prioritises safety over speed. Low urban speed-limits, pedestrian zones and barriers to separate cars from bikes are the key measures. It has proposed a speed limit of 30 km/hour, built 1,500 km of "2+1" roads where each lane of traffic takes turns to use a middle lane for overtaking – this has saved 145 lives. It has built 12,600 safer crossings along with strict policing that have halved the number of pedestrian deaths over the past five years. It has also integrated the guidelines for traffic safety and crime prevention under the Traffic for an Attractive City (TRAST). Swedish police guidelines include safety audit guidelines.

The Netherlands’ Sustainable Safety vision: It has led to implementation of effective road safety measures. Infrastructure measures have reduced the number of fatalities by 30 per cent.

Europe: Slowing traffic down, separation of vulnerable people from motorised traffic, initiating awareness campaigns, and more pedestrian crossings and fines for violation of pedestrian spaces are some of the measures in place. In the EU, fines are prescribed by law, either as part of a Road Traffic Act, or as subject of a special legislative provision. Some countries allow police officers to decide the actual amount of the fine according to the specificity of the traffic situation. In Finland, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, the amount of the fine is a function of the net income of the offender.

Paris: The city mayor has announced a maximum speed limit of 30 km/hour on all streets of the city.

United Kingdom: Careless driving can be fined up to UK 100 and points are added on to the licence. A proposal from the department of transport restricts motorists to a speed of 15 mph, a fine of UK 100, and three penalty points for overtaking cyclists. This is for a few cities where cycle flows are high.

Germany: A computerised point system for traffic violations is in place. One can incur up to three points if the offence endangers traffic safety. Once there are eight demerit points, the licence is revoked. To get it back, the motorist needs to pass a physical and mental status examination.

California: A new traffic law will be implemented from September 2014. It aims to reduce high rates of bicycle accidents, injuries and fatalities across the state. Motorists will be required to keep at least a three-feet distance from bicycle riders as they pass them on the road.

Oman: The Royal Oman Police has introduced speed cameras — both stationery and hidden -- to monitor roads. Stricter punitive measures against those who jump signals have been introduced and all these have contributed in a reduction in the number of road fatalities.

Other cities: In London, the Road Traffic Reduction Act allows authorities to reduce traffic levels or their rate of growth in targeted areas for lowering congestion and improving air quality. San Francisco has enforced a Better Street Policy. New York City is promoting pedestrian infrastructure. In Auckland, the Land Transport (Road Users) Rule stops motorists from stopping or parking on a footpath and pedestrians have to be given right of the way.

The way forward

The only way Delhi can avert a serious mobility and pollution crisis is to scale up public transport along with walking and cycling. The Delhi Master Plan has set the target of increasing the share of public transport to 80 per cent by 2020 from the current share of 40 per cent. This would be possible only if walking and cycling are also scaled up to improve safe access to buses, Metro stations and other destination points. Each and every public transport trip begins and ends as a walk trip. Even a 50 per cent increase in public transport ridership will increase the demand for walking and will need significant expansion of walking infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, the obsession with seamless, signal-free travel for motorised vehicles through flyovers, expressways and elevated ways is disrupting the direct shortest routes of walkers and cyclists and increasing distances and travel time for them. Car parking and other encroachments are taking away space from people, exposing them to unsafe conditions. This can adversely affect public transport usage. CSE is concerned that road engineering interventions once made cannot be changed easily. But it can permanently decide the design of the network and influence travel choices and safety of the people,” says Anumita.

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