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Licence watch, school lessons: How Tamil Nadu turned a corner on accidents

In terms of reduction in accidents, Tamil Nadu was followed by Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, which saw a fall by around 2,000-3,000 cases in a year.

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi |
Updated: January 21, 2021 8:21:48 am
Commending the state, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari asked everyone to follow "the Tamil Nadu model".

* Over 1.26 lakh driving licences suspended since 2016 over drivers talking on the phone; around 50,000 suspended or cancelled for drivers being under influence; a similar number suspended for jumping of red lights; and 3.3 lakh suspended for six common traffic offences.

* IT used to collect real-time data on accidents to help place ambulances, patrol vehicles strategically.

* 2,000-odd wine and beer shops along highways shut in 2018 alone.

* Road safety-related work built into the annual performance appraisal of field officials, road safety included in school curriculum, and plans for road safety clubs in all 7,870 government and government-aided schools.

* Awareness lessons for two-wheeler riders without helmets at nearest traffic police stations.

These are among the measures implemented by Tamil Nadu since 2016, bringing down its road accidents by 38% and deaths in the same by over 54%, winning the state an award this week from the Centre. Commending the state, Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari asked everyone to follow “the Tamil Nadu model”.

With around two crore driver licences, a little over three crore registered vehicles and one of the largest road networks in India — over 66,000 km — Tamil Nadu regularly tops states in number of annual road accidents, and ranked second in total deaths in 2019. Currently, the state accounts for around 13.7% of all road accidents in India and around 11% of road deaths. However, the state believes it has turned a corner.

“The next aim is to have zero deaths. We have not set a date, but we are working on it,” says M Manakumar, Additional Transport Commissioner, Tamil Nadu.

Around 11% of all road accidents in the world take place in India, killing over 1.5 lakh people every year. It was due to these alarming figures that a Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety had set a target of reducing fatalities by 50% by 2020, with 2016 the base year. In 2016, with over 70,000 accidents, killing 17,000 people (as per the state data), Tamil Nadu was the worst performer. But, in the past four years, Manakumar points out, “While the committee had fixed a target of 50% reduction, our state achieved 54.4% by November 2020.” At the end of 2020, the number of accidents in the state stood at around 40,000, with fatalities little over 7,000 — despite the total number of vehicles in the state rising by around 30% in the period.

One of the successful measures by the state government has been using IT to deploy ambulances and patrol vehicles every 50 km, to ensure that help reaches accident victims within the golden hour, when chances of saving a life are the highest — in line with the Supreme Court suggestions. Road designs were rectified and around 500 accident-prone “black spots” removed.

Thanks to the measures, officials say, 76% of the 15,000-odd accident victims attended to by patrolling vehicles last year received treatment within the golden hour. While Tamil Nadu saw on an average 82,000 grievous injuries annually in accidents, in November 2020, the figure stood at a mere 3,205.

A sum of Rs 65 crore was set aside annually for such measures, and was distributed through the district collectors to departments like police, highways, health, education. Officials said the funds are set to see a hike following an inter-departmental committee’s recommendations.

A senior Central government official said several states had undertaken similar measures, in coordination with the Centre. While giving the award to Tamil Nadu, Gadkari, in fact, announced advancement by five years, to 2025, of the date to halve road accidents.

However, as the official added, there is a long road ahead. “One thing to note is that numbers in Tamil Nadu are so huge that even after fall, it continues to be at the top.”

Other states are struggling to cut numbers. While Tamil Nadu brought down accidents by around 7,000 from 2018 to 57,000-odd in 2019, No. 2-ranked Madhya Pradesh could manage a fall of just 730 to around 50,000 in that time. Uttar Pradesh, No.3, saw a fall of just 4 in accidents between 2018 and 2019, when it saw over 42,000 cases (all figures by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways).

In terms of reduction in accidents, Tamil Nadu was followed by Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, which saw a fall by around 2,000-3,000 cases in a year.

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