Roads are meant for walking

By Sunita Narain
Last Updated: Thursday 11 June 2015

transportIn India, traffic accidents are not on the health agenda. It is time the agenda is changed. Last week when the Union Minister for Rural Development met with an unfortunate and tragic accident on the road in Delhi, the issue was highlighted. But as yet, there is little understanding of the seriousness of the problem, and why India, which has just begun to motorise, needs to take action, and fast.

For me, the news of the minister’s death was particularly distressing. It hit me that seven months ago I was on the same road—South Delhi’s Aurobindo Marg—when my cycle was hit by a reversing car. I was lucky that Good Samaritans picked me up, took me to the same Jai Prakash Narain Apex Trauma Centre at AIIMS where minister Gopinath Munde was taken. The same wonderful group of doctors, who tried their best to resuscitate Munde, worked to repair my hands and nose, and stop internal bleeding. I was fortunate. I survived. But Munde, who had much to do in his life, did not. This waste of human lives because of sheer apathy and negligence should make us angry. It should make us change the way we design our roads, enforce traffic rules and, most importantly, take responsibility for our driving.

World Health Organization (WHO) lists traffic-related accidents as one of the top health agendas of the world. It says road accidents globally are the leading cause of deaths among young people between 15 and 29 years of age. Worse, it is in lower- and middle-income countries with fewer vehicles that 90 per cent of the accidents occur. We have started to drive, but without the roads and laws that ensure safety. who also finds that nearly half the people who die in road accidents are pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists—vulnerable road users.

In Delhi, the traffic police database of accidents shows a small downward trend, which is good news. But it also shows that of the 1,600 people who were killed in 2013 in traffic accidents, as many as 673 people were pedestrians. Their only fault was that they did not realise that the city does not give them the right to walk. The vulnerable road users—cyclists, pedestrians, cycle rickshaw users and motorcyclists—made up 81 per cent of those who died. The situation is the same in all our cities. Clearly, our roads are not meant for anybody who is not in a large powerful vehicle.

It is not surprising that 60 per cent of these accidents in Delhi were because of what police classified as the driver’s fault—speeding, disobeying traffic rules and driving dangerously. In most cases, the vehicle that hits someone is never caught. In my case, the car hit and fled. I had no time to take down its registration number. There are no CCTV cameras in Delhi that capture accidents in real time. There is no way to catch, let alone convict, the culprit.

This is not all. We are not even designing our roads for safe use. We cannot walk, nor can we cycle in our cities. We cannot even cross the road safely to take a bus.

Roads are engineered for cars. In this way cars, which transport less than 13 per cent of Delhi’s daily commuters, take 90 per cent of the road space.

The agenda for change is not impossible. First, we need to urgently amend the outdated Motor Vehicles Act. It needs to provide effective deterrence against illegal or irresponsible driving. At present, the penalty against misdemeanour is Rs 100. Just think, how will this stop anyone from parking cars on footpaths or from not driving irresponsibly? Secondly, we need to adopt new technologies for on-road surveillance and compliance. Delhi has some 100 cranes to tow away illegally parked vehicles. The rest of the world, which has taken to driving, pays the cost of enforcement, from installing parking meters to on-road CCTV cameras. The third agenda is to urgently fix the registration database of vehicles so that those who drive irresponsibly know they will be found, caught and penalised. This can only happen through annual vehicle fitness and registration systems.

The bottom line is if we are rich enough to drive, we have to be rich enough to be responsible for our driving.

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  • Early 2014, I applied for

    Early 2014, I applied for fresh driving license and found that District Transport Office, Amritsar, Punjab has started online test (on ipads) and I scored 8 marks out of 10. To my astonishment, I found that literate person scored well over illiterate (but obvious). Major concern is still we are not able to access the maneuverability of the drive and just issue license based on their sign board understanding and without road test. Under these circumstances, what can be expected from qualified drivers.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Sunita, your this

    Dear Sunita, your this sentence is very holistically apt for spreading awareness about road safety.

    " If we are rich enough to drive, we have to be rich enough to be responsible for our driving ".

    I have posted the link and the following post on my face book page in support of your endeavor for road safety particularly to prevent accidents & for the pedestrians.

    Bangalore is one the most unsafest place for Pedestrians. The Pada likha Gadha's ( Educated lot who drive) behave as if they own the roads. The cut signals, go the wrong way on one ways, drive on the footpaths and honk at every one half turn of the wheel. If U are a conscientious citizen, please spread the awareness on the above topic using the above sentence among your friends.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • A big hazard for pedestrians,

    A big hazard for pedestrians, besides the uncivilized driving, is parking along the road, often on both sides. This is true of nearly all our towns and peri-urban slums. This sort of parking which has become a norm, further squeezes the pedestrian space making walking the streets an ever-present existential threat. Please visit any town in Himachal (otherwise considered a green-ish state)and see for yourself. It is now over 20 years since cars first made their way into middle class households, but for our planners and so called municipal authorities this development has not happened and is thus a non issue. The one way to force various 'authorities' to provide safe parking is to allow deflating of tires and imposing heavy fines for roadside parking.

    Or will this also end up as a windfall for our ill paid cops? Making markets and other public spaces pedestrian is another way out, at least during the day?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Madam, The

    Dear Madam,
    The editorial on Road usage is very relevant and none can appreciate the problem than one who had been a victim. I would like to share that even the small fines and penalties may act as deterrent once the enforcement is made strict and no offender/ violator is let off for free. It is very common that the police is at liberty to nab a violator or to let him go free. This attitude needs to be changed and there shall be a mechanism where the traffic policeman incharge shall be taken to task if any violator (say entry of heavy vehicle in city or driving into No entry zone) is found.
    Secondly, your suggestion for annual vehicle fitness and registration may add woes to vehicle owners as the present set up is even not able to handle the work when it is a onetime process. The suggestion may provide one more avenue to promote corruption.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • I wonder what percent of the

    I wonder what percent of the 'accident-causing-vehicles' were driven by people other than the direct car owner.
    I've found that owners driving their own vehicles big or small are a lot more cautious and considerate on roads.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Agreed with your valuable

    Agreed with your valuable argument.

    Just adding few points
    1> why are we giving driving license so easily, why there is no tough test for the applicants? In rest of the world(UK, USA), it is difficult to get license. Also there is rule that after certain number of accidents or faults, your license will be cancelled. Such rules are required and RTO should be more responsible for applying these with extreme strictness.

    2> Our country's economy is growing and many middle class is now able to afford car and on the contrary we don't have public transport as well. So we tend to buy a vehicle. we should improve our infrastructure rapidly. Or we should have some strict norm/limit of vehicles in the city. It should not like any body who can afford buy as many vehicles as we want. City Infrastructure should have enough space for these cars/vehicles.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • It is a pity that our roads

    It is a pity that our roads are not safe for pedastrian as well as motor drivers. The main reason for this is uncontrolled increase in number of vehicles and irresponsible attitude of trafic enforcement system. There should be strict enforcement of traffic rules for all, whether he is a common man or a VIP.There should be heavy penalties to violators. Persons responsible for enforcement should be accountable for high incedances of violations.In my opinion major reason for majority of our problems is uncontrolled growth of population in the country.Whether it is traffic violation, Shortage of water, electricity, rising infation or law and order. It is high time to think seriously about the population control to manage the country in aproper way. A.K.BHATIA Regional Director (Rtd) CGWB Chandigarh

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • we can reduce road accident

    we can reduce road accident by following points
    1. hefty fine for jumping red light.
    2.compulsory use of seat belts and helmets state backed transporting system
    4.Giving incentive for commuters who uses cycle
    5.separate lane for cycling and walking
    6.string of trauma care centers at the junction of the road
    8.tightening the driving licensing system box for car should be developed to track it

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply
  • Yes - We require "right to

    Yes - We require "right to walk on roads"; I would like to add here that we need to re-look our Motor Vehicle Act-1989 and designs of roads and also bench mark then with existing I.S. Codes if any. Its another story that the I.S. Code in itself may be needing modifications for past so many years. Have we already made the motor vehicle rules and regulations under the MV Act-1989 or we are still in the ÔÇ£ActÔÇØ state?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply