India's roads to remain lethal even in 2030: Lancet

Roads in India ignore motorcyclists and cyclists, prioritise car owners, it says

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Monday 23 December 2019
Traffic in New Delhi. Photo: Agnimirh Basu / CSE12jav.net12jav.net

India will not be able to curb deaths due to road accidents even a decade from now, according to a latest study.

In 2017, 1.38 lakh people died from injuries sustained during road mishaps — 58.7 per cent more than in 1990, according to The Lancet. The global rate was 8.1 per cent.

“If the trends estimated up to 2017 were to continue, India’s projected age-standardised death rate for road injuries in 2020 would be 16.8 per 100,000 population, against the target of 8.9. Even if the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2020 target was considered as that of 2030, none of the states would meet it,” the report read.

“India had a vehicle revolution, with the number of vehicles rising extremely fast. But this growth in numbers happened without a growth in safety paraphernalia. The required law enforcement and infra never matched the pace,” Amar Shrivastava, who collaborated on the report, told Down To Earth.

The deaths caused due to road injury in India accounted for 2.2 per cent in 2017 while in 1990, this contribution was 1.7 per cent. While India’s proportion increased, road injury-related deaths reduced globally in 2017.

Motorcyclists topped the casualties list, followed by pedestrians, cyclists and motor-vehicle occupants.

“The higher death rate for road injuries in India among motorcyclists and cyclists than the global average indicates that road infrastructure and vehicle design in the country gives priority to car owners, and not to those who might not be able to afford a car, so affecting their safety,” the report said. This was the trend in low- and middle-income countries.

“We have badly let down pedestrians and cyclists. Cycles are still an important mode of transport in many cities. If we can’t have separate paths, there can at least be separate demarcation,” Shrivastava said.

Asked about roads that were narrow when built or due to encroachments, he said while the latter were a problem, they were not the crux of the matter.  

How states fared

Males accounted for 77 per cent of all road injury deaths in India. The highest crude death rates for road injuries in males were in Uttarakhand, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.

In India, while the proportion of male deaths in road accidents has been much higher historically, the research attributed this trend to behaviorual tendencies. “Females have a lower risk of road injury due to cultural or economic reasons and lower-risk taking behaviour than males,” it said.

As far as the gap between achieving the SDG target by 2020 and the estimated rate of death prevalence was concerned, ten sates — Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, and Manipur — will be bigger losers than others. Other states were also off track but the difference in the gap will be less than these ten states.

According to 2017 estimates, the worse–off states for pedestrians are Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Manipur. For motorcyclists, the states that are worse include Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram. Cyclists’ deaths have happened more in Punjab Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Road behaviour, lack of infra and vehicle technology were three most important factors influencing road-related injuries. Road behaviour includes adherence to trafiic rules.

“Roads have to have proper demarcation for motor cyclists. For cyclists in cities, there have to be separate paths,” Shrivastava said.

“Vehicle technology is significant. For example, for a very long time, the automobile lobby campaigned against the automatic break system because it would have required them to tweak designs. In a country like India where 60 per cent of road accidents take place on highways where people drive at more than 60 kilometres per hour, this was absolutely necessary. But it has been put into effect only now,” he added.

However, it was just not about the mortality caused due to road injury deaths. They had ample economic implications too.

“With deaths due to road injuries being the leading cause of death in males aged 15–39 years and the second leading cause of death in this age group for both sexes combined in 2017, road injuries can have far-reaching economic implications including loss of the primary breadwinner, funeral costs, and costs of care, which can push families into poverty. A substantial proportion of these deaths due to road injuries are likely to occur during commuting to and from work, as is shown in developed countries,” the report read.

The collaborators have urged the government through their report to invest more in public transport and remove all barriers in successful implementation of Bus Rapid Transport Projects across India.

“Besides, they need to improve availability of healthcare facilities on highways so that injuries are immediately addressed. This can reduce mortality dramatically,” Shrivastava said.

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