When it comes to the topic of road safety, India is amongst the top countries, where the number of road accidents and fatalities is quite alarming. Credits where it is due, there has been improvement in terms of reduction in the number of people who lose their lives each year, but it still is a significant number.
The Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030 targets to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by 50 percent by 2030. It highlights that they can be prevented by addressing the whole of the transport system, taking action to ensure safe roads, vehicles, and behaviours as well as improving emergency care.
WHO, in collaboration with partners, organizes periodic UN Global Road Safety Weeks. This 7th edition focuses on sustainable transport, in particular the need to shift to walking, cycling, and using public transport. Road safety is both a prerequisite for and an outcome of this shift.
Looking at the number of road accidents in India, it is important to acknowledge that it has reduced from 480,652 in 2016 to 412,432 in 2021. The number of people who lost their lives during the period also came down from 494,624 to 384,448 for the same period respectively. But is that enough?
Need to reinvent road design
Financial Express Digital reached spoke to several industry experts to understand their perception about how to improve road safety and their expectations. One of the common factors that were pointed out by the experts was that in addition to mandating safety features/technologies in vehicles, there was a pressing need to take into account vulnerable users and ensure holistic infrastructure development that focuses on the efficient use of public transport over encouraging private vehicle ownership.
Abhimanyu Prakash, Regional Lead, Asia and Africa, Global Designing Cities Initiative, a partner under the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS) said, “With the rapidly growing urbanisation, industry, and economic growth, there is more movement across and within cities than ever seen before. Traffic fatalities and crashes can be correlated to increased mobility and car ownership across the nation, but also increasing speeds. Street design can be instrumental in addressing the road safety burden in today’s India but also help shape the future of roads and urban environments in the country.”
He believes that street design is the best self-enforcing tool to inform drivers on how to behave on the streets. This can help reduce and manage speeds through design, the biggest causative factor that turns crashes into fatalities. The Global Street Design Guide, endorsed by several Indian cities, has various design strategies that can be applied on urban roads based on the contextual considerations and the needs of their users on that street.
“Despite congestion during some peak hours, our urban roads are prone to high speeds during off-peak hours because the street design permits speeding, which leads to road safety concerns. Secondly, street design can shift the conversation around vehicle ownership by dedicating space for sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling, and taking public transit. If the street is designed to prioritise these modes and they can be made attractive, affordable, and comfortable for the users, we can work towards creating safer, cleaner, and greener cities for all by providing residents with multi-modal choices, rather than incentivising car ownership, congestion, and in turn pollution and road fatalities,” added Prakash.
Dr Binti Singh, an urban sociologist and Associate Professor at KRVIA is explicit about her views. “We cannot be replicating the mistakes that have happened globally when it comes to city planning. It is important to look at the concept of FMC or 15mC, which stands for 15-minute urban planning concept in which most daily necessities and services, such as work, shopping, education, healthcare, and leisure can be easily reached by a 15-minute walk or bike ride from any point in the city.”
“The developed cities of the global North are talking about it today but many of the cities in the global South especially India are living examples of the 15-minute city concept. Most of our cities are polycentric in nature and good design can bolster this concept and work towards livability and lower carbon footprints. The massive infrastructure development must be directed towards creating more and more public mobility systems and disincentivise the use of private vehicles for sustainable mobility.”
She believes that an ideal scenario is to focus on public transportation over encouraging private vehicle ownership. Vehicles run on electricity, using flexible fuels and gradually moving away from fossil fuels is what research is directed towards.
Dhawal Ashar, Program Head, Sustainable Cities and Transport, WRI India, a partner under the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS) too feels the same. “In most cities in India, pedestrians account for the highest road traffic fatalities. We will have to design infrastructure with pedestrian safety and accessibility at the center of it. While one may think that it could cause traffic jams and delays, we have repeatedly observed in cities that, designing for pedestrians, improves vehicular efficiency too. City streets are not highways and pedestrians cannot be wished away.”
There seems to be a consensus amongst the experts, that penalising alone does not help. It is important to encourage a cultural shift in the mindset of vehicle users to achieve the long-term goal.
Role of regulations and safety tech
Despite being a young entrant compared to its developed counterparts, India is the world’s fourth-largest automotive market and is amongst the fastest-growing markets globally.
The Indian consumers are also maturing from looking at just the initial acquisition cost, to looking at the TCO as well as a recent focus on safer vehicles. Thanks to the awareness around it and the policy push by the Indian government on mandating safety technologies, there has been a massive improvement in terms of safety technologies being offered in the vehicle.
Uday Dodla, Senior Director, Automotive Business Development, Qualcomm India said, “There is increasing demand around the world for safe cars with immersive, intelligent in-vehicle features.
Automakers are using technologies such as 5G, AI, ML, and IoT to create next-gen vehicles that are more connected, intelligent, location-aware, and safer than their predecessors. Designed to enable vehicles to communicate with one another and to their surrounding environment, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication technologies is playing an increasingly important role as it becomes a critical sensor for automotive safety systems.”
On the other hand, safety watchdog like Global NCAP’s SaferCarsForIndia campaign, has managed to create a buzz around the importance of vehicle design. In fact, it is expected that the government of India will soon be coming out with the Bharat NCAP safety rating that will further put the onus of manufacturing safer cars in India.
In the two-wheeler segment, the push for mandating CBS (Combi braking systems) for scooters and motorcycle less than 125cc and ABS (Anti Braking Systems) for models above is targeted towards making the riders safer.
Component suppliers are also putting up efforts to do their bit by localising new technologies and bringing the cost down for safety features so that they can be incorporated into more vehicles.
All-in-all when it comes to the topic of road safety, there is no silver bullet nor is a simple copy-paste solution available. It is imperative that each stakeholder, starting with the road users to take it upon themselves to adhere and practice safe usage.
While, penalising is a way to discourage unsafe behaviour, unfortunately, it is still a reaction to the incident. It is imperative that a sense of onus and responsibility is incorporated in users to improve road safety.