The data on road crashes in the country is highly fragmented, barring states of Punjab and Tamil Nadu which have a good Road Accident Data Management System.
Yet, India stands out miserably in the latest World Health Organisation’s (WHO) “Global Road Safety Report-2015” with an estimated 2,07,551 deaths on roads.
In 2014, India reported 137,572 deaths, since accidental deaths are clubbed with suicides, totalling to 141,526 deaths, said SafeLife Foundation, an NGO that analysed the India-specific findings of the WHO report.
Over 1.20 million people perish on the world’s roads annually, making it a leading cause of deaths, especially in low and middle-income countries and entailing a loss of almost three percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to their economies.
While the number of road traffic fatalities have remained nearly constant, given a four percent increase in global population and 16 percent increase in motorisation, road safety efforts in the past three years have saved human lives.
But in India, there has been a continuous rise in road accident deaths since 2007 — with a brief annual decline in 2012. The 2014 data stood at 141,526, marking a three percent increase over 2013.
Road deaths in low and middle-income countries are more than double of those in developed countries.
The noteworthy aspect is that 90 percent of the road deaths occurred in the underdeveloped or developing countries, housing 84 percent of the global population but having only 54 percent of the world’s vehicles.
In the same context, of the 68 countries which saw a rise in road traffic deaths since 2010, 84 percent are in the low and middle-income group countries.
Similarly, 79 countries reporting a decline in road traffic deaths include 56 percent which are in the low and middle-income group countries — making it clear that the risk of dying in road accident remains highest in the underdeveloped/developing nations.
Almost half of all the road accident deaths are among the vulnerable users — two-wheeler, cycles or pedestrians, with WHO recommending more attention to be paid to the needs of the pedestrians and cyclists.
India has no laws protecting these (pedestrians/cyclists) who account for more than one-third of all road accident deaths in the country.
The WHO estimates that half a million lives could be saved each year in developing countries by creating an efficient emergency system to tackle road accident casualties.
While India boasts of a multiple access numbers for emergencies, only a few are reliable, compared to 116 countries that have a universal access number to activate emergency services response.
Moreover, after a road crash in developing countries like India, the local community leaders, police or drivers, if trained in basic injury care and coordination of transporting the victims to a hospital can fulfil the role of saviours in the absence absence of professional experts or medicos.
The SaveLife Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer Piyush Tewari also endorsed WHO recommendation that health-care staff must be trained in emergency care and there is no legislation ensuring efficient emergency care and protection to bystanders rendering help to the victims.
Added to this is the lack of robust data on road traffic fatalities in most countries, though many submit vital registration date to the WHO on all causes of deaths, including many which now use hospital data as the basis for their figures.
The WHO feels that coordination of road safety efforts across multiple sectors and stakeholders is critical for success and currently 167 countries, compared to 162 in 2010, have an agency that leads the initiative.
India has no lead agency to effectively execute road safety strategies despite most states having their own Road Safety Policies.
Regarding legislation and road user behaviour, 17 countries have laws relating to one or more of five key behavioural risk factors, representing 409 million or 5.7 percent of the world population.
These are — speed limits, use of motorcycle helmets, using seat belts, reducing drunken driving and child restraint use in which India meets the WHO criteria only pertaining to seat belts usage.