Updated: August 1, 2015 4:55:43 am
The prime minister finally acknowledged that road accidents in India have become a serious threat to its citizens. Through his Mann Ki Baat, Narendra Modi has become the first PM to bring this neglected issue to national attention. This is commendable. With 1.4 lakh road accident deaths in 2014, the importance of the issue cannot be overemphasised. The PM acknowledged the magnitude of this epidemic and gave assurances that the government is planning important initiatives, including the road transport and safety bill, a national road safety policy and cashless treatment of road accident victims, to check the problem. While these are essential interventions, the PM could have been expected to outline, in some detail, what the contours of the various schemes are. For instance, in addition to asking parents to inculcate better road behaviour among children, the PM could have outlined what his government is planning to do to make formal drivers’ education mandatory before getting a licence, and how capacity will be built to ensure that there is access to such training. The parents to whom the PM was appealing may themselves not know what responsible road behaviour is. In the absence of a robust drivers’ training and licensing regime, most people are ignorant of the techniques and strategies to avoid an accident, or why they should follow certain rules.
Modi referred to the tragic case of Vinay Jindal, a 20-year-old who, after a hit-and-run accident in Delhi, was not assisted by bystanders. He acknowledged that people are hesitant to come forward and help the injured, but did not outline what he would do to address this hesitation. The government must convince citizens that they will not be subjected to harassment after they help an accident victim. The Centre recently issued guidelines to protect good samaritans after the Supreme Court ordered it to do so. While the notification has been released, there has been no publicity to make people aware of their rights and privileges if they helped an injured person. A massive publicity campaign is needed, as is government action to provide legislative backing to these guidelines. The PM introduced his vision of providing “cashless treatment” to road accident victims. This is an essential intervention but the government must also take a more comprehensive approach to trauma care by addressing other required measures too, such as a universal access number for emergencies and advanced ambulatory care through well-equipped and well-staffed ambulances. Hospitals can do little if patients arrive late or with injuries that have been exacerbated due to improper transfer. Countries such as China, Brazil and even Pakistan have shown significant improvement in outcomes by establishing such systems.
Modi also spoke about the road transport and safety bill. The bill was envisaged by this government after the unfortunate death of Union Minister Gopinath Munde in a road accident in Delhi last year. But the latest draft of the bill, released on June 23, is different from previous iterations. Each statute around road safety has been removed and is proposed to be shifted to rule-making, rendering the proposed act meaningless vis a vis the safety of road users. It also fails to address head-on the issues of vehicle safety, accountability for road engineers and contractors, and the significant problems with heavy vehicle regulation, including the deplorable working and living conditions of truck drivers. This is a significant setback for road safety in India. Proven practices from around the world have shown that laws on safety interventions such as helmets, seat belts and speed limits, along with minimum safety standards for vehicles, roads and road users, as well as their strict enforcement, can save numerous lives. For instance, stringent road safety laws in Malaysia have decreased road accident deaths by 30 per cent. Similar interventions in China around drunk driving, speeding and child protection have resulted in a 40 per cent decline in road accident deaths since 2007. The transport minister must reinstate the safety provisions to make good on the PM’s commitment to the public.
The writer is former Union home secretary and trustee of SaveLIFE Foundation
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