Roads that kill

The road accidents report blames reckless driving for most accidents but fails to admit that bad roads in Jammu and Kashmir are equally to be blamed. The latest road accidents data is a wake-up call to a most important public safety hazard that country has paid lax attention to. According to the “Road Accidents in India 2015” report, there were 5836 road accidents in 2015, in which there were 917 fatalities and a toll of 8142 injured persons.
In a state with a huge population and area, it may not be fair to use this data to understand how many accidents occur per day or hour.
The data also reveals that 54.1 per cent of all persons killed in road accidents were in the 15-35 years age group. The economic losses suffered by families and the society at large by the senseless loss of working-age adults, poses another dimension to the problem.
What is worrying is that both the number of accidents and fatalities are increasing year after year, and so is the severity of road accidents, measured in terms of number of persons killed per 100 accidents, which has increased from 28.5 in 2014 to 29.1 in 2015. While the exponential increase in vehicular population in Jammu and Kashmir would be one of the factors, there is no denying that the state has failed to manage this achievement despite a large growth in vehicle population too.
The challenges for Jammu and Kashmir are manifold. Huge number of the fatalities involved two-wheeler motorists.
The enforcement of helmets for two-wheelers and seat-belts for other vehicles continues to be lax. 53 per cent of the accidents, 59 per cent of injuries and 61 per cent of fatalities are occurring in rural areas.
With inadequate medical facilities in rural areas, this is hardly surprising. There were several hit-and-run cases in 2015 where people lost their lives. In several high profile cases, police and courts have been indecisive about charging hit-and-runs under culpable homicide not amounting to murder of the Ranbir Penal Code.
Stiffer charges will ensure deterrence and prevent those causing accidents from fleeing the spot instead of arranging medical attention. The public attitude to accidents must also undergo a sea change. The urge to take the law into one’s hands and physically punish the driver also contributes to hit-and-runs. However, the report’s conclusion that 77.1 per cent of the accidents were caused by drivers’ faults is unconvincing. This conveniently ignores the fact that road design and road conditions in India makes roads very unsafe for motorists, passengers and pedestrians.
In most parts of Jammu and Kashmir, there is no demarcation of footpaths and roads. Road signages are also inadequate. Potholes, uneven roads, dysfunctional traffic lights, poorly designed speed-breakers and u-turns, non-existent lane separators and road dividers, all contribute towards the high incidence of deaths on Indian roads. To pass off accidents caused by these to drivers’ faults is unkindest cut of all.
Motorists would also do well to internalize the credo of defensive driving – or “driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others”.
But this would require an unprecedented public awareness campaign in which central and state governments and civil society collaborate. Alongside building new roads, the PDP-BJP government would do well if it can improve condition of existing roads and target behavioural change among motorists.

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