About 16 people die and 58 are injured every hour in road accidents in India. 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. What's more the city that should be setting the benchmark for standards and best practices—Delhi—has the highest number of fatal accidents among all cities, registering five deaths per day.
These are part of a set of latest assessments of road accident risk and accident hot spots in Delhi, released by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) here on Monday. The assessments indicate that despite the nominal reduction in total number of accidents over the past two decades, the share of fatal road accidents have increased phenomenally as Indian cities are giving more importance to high speed roads for vehicles – and not to ensuring safe access for all, say CSE researchers.
CSE released its analysis at a workshop, titled ‘Our Safe Right to Way – Addressing safety and accessibility in Indian cities’.
Call for zero tolerance approach
Tragic statistics are piling up and several recent gruesome incidents have sent shock waves, necessitating immediate intervention for zero tolerance. The untimely death of Union rural development minister, Gopinath Munde, in a road accident on June 3 was a grim reminder of the dangerous trend in the city. Even children going to school are not spared—a young Lineshya and her cardiologist father, Pankaj Gupta, were crushed to death by a speeding bus in Gurgaon in April this year.
The brunt of poor safety policy and lack of law enforcement is borne by the very large number of people cycling and walking on the city’s roads, as well as those who use public transport.
Sunita Narain, director general of CSE—who has recently recovered from a serious cycling accident “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.”
Agrees Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director for research and advocacy and head of the team that carried out these assessments: “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.”
She adds: “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.”
|Report at a glance
|• Deadly tally: About 16 deaths and 58 road injures reported every hour in India; share of fatal accidents in the total is up from 18 per cent in 2003 to 25 in 2012
|• Delhi records an average of five road accident deaths per day – four of these are of pedestrians and two-wheeler riders. Every week, two cyclists and one car rider dies in Delhi
|• The worst accident hotspots are near flyovers and junctions
|• Cities are designing roads to increase speed of motor vehicles; neglect infrastructure and rights of walkers, cyclists and public transport users
|• If road safety is compromised, cities cannot increase the share of sustainable modes such as walk, cycle and public transport for clean air and public health
Road injuries and fatalities add to the burden of death and disease from motorisation: 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.
Explosive trend: 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 past 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.
High risk cities: Highly motorised 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. Studies now indicate that smaller cities that have newly built highways, show increasing vehicle conflict and accident risks—Lucknow, Vadodara and Agra are some examples.
Delhi report card: Delhi ranks the highest in terms of fatal accidents and in number of pedestrians and cyclists falling victim to road crashes. The total number of accidents in 2013 was 9 per cent higher than the 2012 level. The ministry’s “Road Accidents in India 2012” report 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 overspeeding being reported. Chennai, which follows Delhi in road accident deaths, reports 25 per cent less fatalities.
Young and productive group at serious risk: Nationally, the young population (up to 24 years age) 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.
Walkers, 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 victim 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 from 2006 to 2009 were pedestrians. Among motorised vehicles, two-wheelers are the most vulnerable.
Evidence from AIIMS Trauma Centre points to grievous public health impact: 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 orthopaedic 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.
CSE’s safety audit of the deadliest roads:
Based on the accident hot spot data, CSE has carried out a safety audit by selecting stretches from six arterial roads that are the most dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. CSE has also suggested design solutions to improve safety, convenience, aesthetics and overall attractiveness and well-being. These include the Mehrauli-Badarpur road, Mathura road, Ring Road, Outer Ring Road, Vikas Marg and the Noida Link Road.
The survey has covered approximately 27 km. Broadly, eight criteria have been taken into account – these include engineering and design features of footpaths and cycle tracks; crossings- intersections and mid-sections; encroachments/impediments on footpaths; design features for transits/bus stops/shelters; amenities for road users; conflict and friction between different modes; safety features like lighting, dead width, public spaces etc; and aesthetics and environment.
• The ugliest of all: The ranking of all these roads shows that on all the parameters, all the roads score from very poor to poor. None of the corridors appears in average, good, or best classes.
• Footpaths available in around 55 per cent of the total length surveyed. Only 10 per cent of the total has cycle tracks: Width of a footpath according to the guidelines is a minimum 1.8 metre – and this is available only on 10-15 per cent of the total road stretch. The kerb height is unacceptable along all the roads, except at some locations along Vikas Marg. Only five-10 per cent of the total length has a kerb height equivalent to standards (150 mm). None of the corridors have a continuous footpath. Only the Noida Link Road and Vikas Marg have reasonable length of cycle tracks. The Mathura road and Mehrauli-Badarpur road have cycle tracks only for 300-400 metre. Only 10 per cent of the total length has cycle tracks; worse, most are not accessible.
• Poor public transport accessibility: Accessibility to public transport nodes is poor in almost all the corridors. Bus stops are located on footpaths, as there is no clear multi-function zone. Height of the base of the bus stop does not match with the base of the bus, so people tend to wait on the street; buses stop in the middle of the roads; and roads with more public transport users have less bus stops. Buses also tend to stop at the foot of flyovers. making it unsafe for bus users.
• Road design impedes peoples’ access: None of the intersections is designed with raised table-top crossings; none have pelican signals for convenient crossings. None of the corridors have mid-section crossing. Crossings are given either in the form of foot overbridges or subways; medians are usually blocked with high railings. Only 15 per cent of the total corridor studied has visible zebra crossings. An opinion survey shows 90 per cent of walkers and cyclists prefer crossing on the ground as foot overbridges and subways increase the distance and are inconvenient. On the other hand, foot overbridges and subways with ramps attract motorised vehicles for crossing.
• Poor environmental conditions, amenities and aesthetics: All the corridors score poor on this count. Few toilets can be seen along the Mehrauli-Badarpur road, Noida Link Road and Vikas Marg, but these remain locked or are unusable. There are no facilities for women. Neither is there a provision for shaded footpaths. Walking and cycling infrastructure and bus stops are ill-maintained, unclean, and badly lit, making them unsafe in the night. Footpaths all along the segments are along the boundary walls with setbacks, making them unsafe and vulnerable to crime. Parking on footpaths is a menace – especially along Mathura road, Mehrauli-Badarpur road and Vikas Marg. Around 50 per cent of each of these roads’ footpaths are encroached by parking.
• Difficult to negotiate roads with any form of disability: The infrastructure in all the corridors is not designed keeping the disabled in mind. All the corridors score zero in this aspect. Disabled people cannot access footpaths that are higher than 300 mm and without ramps. As there are no raised table-top crossings and the medians are blocked, this makes them vulnerable to accidents while crossing. Most bus stops do not have ramps or tactile paving. Tactile paving that exists along some portions of the Ring Road, Mathura road and Vikas Marg do not lead the user anywhere as they are put in a haphazard manner. There is no provision of auditory signals on any corridor.
• CSE has demonstrated that by changing design and reorganising street activities, roads can be transformed into zero-accident zones: For example, on the Mehrauli-Badarpur road, redesign and reorganisation can free up nearly 1,600-1,700 sq m of road space that can be used to create pedestrian plazas and organise hawking and vending, while improving overall accessibility and safety.
|Weak policy, laws
|• 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). Its weak enforcement hampers policy implementation; fines and penalties are minimal.
|• The safety of disabled-friendly road users is not ensured.
|• Most of the Indian Penal Code provisions relating to road accidents, including deaths, are bailable.
|• Guidelines for pedestrian facilities and street design exist, but these are voluntary.
Roadmap for zero fatality
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.
Says Roychowdhury: “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.”
Focus not only on injury reduction, but also on reducing road danger:
• Introduce high penalty and stringent enforcement of current laws: The Motor Vehicles Act and Rules focus on vehicle safety, seatbelt and helmet requirements, and speeding and drunk-driving laws. This can work effectively only with strong deterrence and stringent penalties. Reform the Motor Vehicles Act and Rules for stringent penalty, reduce speed limit in cities to 30 km/hour and set targets to achieve zero fatalities.
• Improve traffic surveillance and technology aids.
• Introduce a comprehensive road safety act addressing safety of all road users, including vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and two-wheeler riders.
• Notify street design guidelines under the Delhi Development Act to make it mandatory. For national action, notify under the Central Motor Vehicles Act and Rules.
• Mandate implementation of pedestrian and cycling plans and pre- and post-construction road safety audits of roads. Public transport plans must include pedestrian plans for multimodal integration.
• Make encroachment (parking, gardens etc) on footpaths punishable under law.
• Implement measures to reduce traffic volumes and introduce traffic calming measures – especially on highways/arterials within a city.
Order: Judgement of the Supreme Court of India regarding road accidents in India and means to prevent it, 22/04/2014
Report: Global status report on road safety 2013
Report: Pedestrian safety: a road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners
Report: The pedestrian and the road