Preventing accidents

• The recent death of at least 23 children and many others in a school bus crash in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, or of the 18 labourers in a lorry accident in Maharashtra, or of nine people in a truck mishap in Uttar Pradesh.

• Bald data on Indians killed or injured in road accidents put out annually by the Centre obscure the human impact of the carnage on national and State highways, as well as urban and rural roads.

• Bringing sanity to the roads of a fast-motorising country seems to be nobody’s responsibility. India as a whole is inured to the ghastly toll every year, although the Supreme Court has been trying to shake governments out of their apathy through the Committee on Road Safety it constituted in 2014 and several specific and time-bound directions. The response of the Centre and the States has been far from responsible.

• The issue of safety black spots on roads that were identified on the basis of fatal accidents between 2011 and 2014. The Union Road Transport Ministry stated in March this year that only 189 out of 789 such spots had been rectified, while funds had been sanctioned for another 256, and the rest were either under State jurisdiction or awaiting sanction.

• Incremental approaches such as this result in the shameful national record of about 150,000 dead and several hundred thousand injured annually.

=> What needs to be done?

• The Kangra accident needs to be probed by qualified transport safety experts to determine the factors that caused it.

• There needs to be a report on the crash, to identify lapses, if any, and to take up remedial road engineering measures. The apex court has directed that the performance of district committees should be reviewed periodically. This should ideally follow mandatory public hearings every month for citizens to record road risk complaints.

• Forming the much-delayed National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board, with a provision for State governments to participate, has to be a top priority. Without expert help, executive agencies such as the Police and Public Works Departments are unable to conduct a technical investigation into an accident.

• Only a scientific system can stop the routine criminalising of all accidents. The present investigative machinery does not have the capability to determine faults, enabling officials responsible for bad road design and construction and lax traffic managers to escape liability.

• For accident victims, there is also the heavy burden of out-of-pocket expenditure on medical treatment. The government had promised to address this issue through a cashless facility, but it has not been able to do so as the requisite amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act have not yet been passed.

• Ultimately, road safety depends on enforcement of rules with zero tolerance to violations, and making officials accountable for safety. That can be ensured even today.

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