It’s no secret that over 1,50,000 people die on our roads every year, and countless others are maimed, injured, and left incapacitated – making India’s roads the most dangerous on the planet. Just for reference, 32,658 people were killed globally by acts of terrorism in 2014 – an 80% increase from the year before. In the same year, 537 people died in plane crashes around the world – also considerably more than the year before. In 2014, the UK reported 1,775 road deaths in total. Not to undermine or belittle even a single life lost in these tragedies, but I think you’ll agree that the epidemic on our roads has reached epic proportions – especially if you consider that over 50% of road fatalities in our country are under the age of 35. A recent WHO report estimates that road accidents cost countries about 3% of their gross national product – which is closer to 5% for developing countries.
Nitin Gadkari’s ministry, Road Transport & Highways, has been attempting to pass a new Road Safety Bill, which aims to take steps to improve the situation. But, thus far, he’s been stalled by vested interests, transport unions, and even state governments – all the while more people are dying every minute. The fact that we’re adding 20 million new vehicles to the roads every year doesn’t help either – especially since the minister agrees that 30% of the driving licences carried by road users in India are fake. There’s rampant corruption in the Regional Transport Offices across the country, and little or no accountability – something that the new Road Safety Bill hopes to address.
The Bill also aims to impose far heavier fines and stricter punishment against violators – especially if an accident results in a fatality. It also intends to bring in more transparency and set aside funds to fix trouble spots and accident-prone areas in the highway network. Plus, law enforcement officers who are found breaking the rules – which happens more often than not – will be dealt with far more sternly than at present.
So how do we, as citizens, affect change? Well, a group of auto journalists are taking the first steps towards getting our voices heard collectively rather than individually. In the past few years, we’ve seen how influential the will of the people is – so we need more people to raise their voices and demand change, especially since the Central government recognizes the problem and is attempting to put instruments in place to improve the situation.
But, really, the first step is to abandon the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude that we all have when we’re out on the road. Be patient, take a few deep breaths, and ensure that you follow the rules of the road – irrespective of the anarchy around you. If you can do that, and get others to follow your lead, you’ll be amazed at what a difference it’ll make!