In this two-part article Rajesh Seth explains how the Indian government is pushing ahead with policy to improve road safety and establish a new model to deal with transport risks.

India is a road nation

By: Rajesh Seth

As the Indian government extends its road infrastructure, corporate India is lending a helping hand through measures to improve another vital aspect of surface transport – road safety.

Leh town,Ladakh,India

Road transport is the cheapest and most most popular mode of transport for goods in India. India has the second-largest road network in the world, with 6.22 million kilometres of expressways, national highways, state highways, and major district roads. Road transport has increased communication between cities, towns and villages over the years. The road network today transports over 65% of all goods and 90% of total passenger traffic. Road transport is also a secondary feeder service of goods transported by rail.

Developing road Infrastructure

Completed road projects of the Indian government include the Bharatmala Pariyojana (35,000km of national highways at a cost of $72bn), and the Golden Quadrilateral connecting the four metros of Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai with 5,800km of four- and six-lane highways built at a cost of $8bn. Still under construction is the 1,380km eight-lane Delhi-Mumbai expressway, costing $3bn. Slated for completion by March 2023, it will reduce the travel time between these cities by half. The expressway will also save more than 320 million litres of fuel a year, and cut CO2 emissions by 850,000 tonnes, equivalent to planting 40 million trees.

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The Indian government is also pushing for an increase in speed limits, by as much as 20 km/h. What is worrying is that higher speed limits may come with more road accidents.

360 deaths a day

Last year, India recorded 355,000 road accidents, with 133,000 fatalities (or 360 per day) and 335,000 injuries. Over 60% of crashes were caused by speeding and 24% by careless driving.

Though the number of fatalities last year was the lowest in the past ten years (151,000 in 2019), the decline was mainly due to restrictions on movement during the pandemic lockdowns. However, the number of deaths did not fall in proportion to the decrease in traffic, probably due to an increase in average speeds and rash driving (due to less traffic on roads) and a consequent increase in the severity of accidents.

Pune, India

The number of road traffic deaths globally is 1.35 million. According to a 2018 WHO report, road traffic injury is now the leading cause of death of children and young adults aged 5-29 years and is the eighth leading cause of death for all age groups, surpassing HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and diarrhoeal diseases. The burden of road traffic injuries and deaths is disproportionately borne by vulnerable road users and residents of low- and middle-income countries, where road deaths rise as transport is increasingly motorised.

Forty-eight percent of road deaths in India were in the 18 to 35 age group. According to a World Bank report, though India has only 1% of the world’s vehicles it accounts for 11% of global road crashes. In 2018, 36% of road fatalities were two-wheeler and bicycle riders and 14% were pedestrians. The most frequent causes of road deaths are speeding and lane indiscipline, followed by fatigue, drunken driving, and use of mobile phones while driving.

Recruiting partners to improve road safety

Over the past two decades, more and more companies in India have begun voluntarily contributing to road safety improvement programmes, partly as a corporate social responsibility effort.

Indian CEOs are realising that this high number of road deaths and injuries is unacceptable, and that they have a role to play in increasing road safety awareness among their transport contractors and truck drivers. Thousands of heavy goods vehicles transport raw materials to factories, and ship finished goods to warehouses and customers. CEOs are convinced that road crashes are preventable and investment in road safety makes business sense. If employees see that management is really concerned about saving lives, they will become engaged in the safety process, instead of just following orders.

Several large manufacturers in India (such as makers of lubricants, steel, cement and heavy machinery), along with packers and movers and large fleet operators, have launched various road safety projects with clear objectives, implementation timelines and measurable outcomes. Holistic approaches typically encompass people, vehicles and processes, and use advanced technologies with a focus on leadership, vehicle management, driver management, journey risk management, contractor safety management, and traffic and parking management.