The killer roads of Odisha

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Three high-school going young boys, driving a motorbike, got killed when they hit another car yesterday. Irate people blocked the road, demanded sound compensation for family and awaited assurance from district authorities to end their protest. The incident is just another space in the newspaper, in a series of accidents and the mortality they have been causing in Odisha, but for the families that lose their own, these are life altering. Odisha unfortunately has the highest road accident rate among other states, which clearly is avoidable.

Odisha’s roads have been killing 12 people and injuring 15 every single day in 2015 (as per NCRB). In 2013, a little over 4000 people died of road accidents in the state while that number climbed by another 300 in 2014. Situation in Odisha is just a sample of the situation nationwide. Indian roads have been a mass killer. Year after year more than a hundred thousand people die in accidents. In the year 2015, 382 people died each day due to road accidents.

The economic and social cost of such losses is difficult to measure. The fact that 50% of all deaths involve people between 20 and 35 years of age (more than 70,000 in India and more than 2000 in Odisha) speaks of what the country loses.  In the recent past, news of a series of bus accidents in Odisha has hogged limelight. Anyone who has traveled quite a bit in buses in Odisha, and not just in the major cities, will identify the dilapidated condition of most of them. Reckless driving, drunken driving are hallmarks that are hard to miss.

The predominant causes for road accidents are nothing that is a mystery. The United Nations road safety collaboration in a detailed work has identified the major ones. 22% of all fatalities are sadly pedestrians. Not wearing helmets, or if I may add, wearing helmets in a fashionable manner just for the sake of avoiding the Rs 500 fine is another cause. Drinking and driving, a major problem, to address which the SC has decided to ban liquor outlets on NH, is another major cause of accidents. Not wearing seat belts feature as other top reasons for road accident deaths.

Government of Odisha need not reinvent the wheel to reduce accident deaths. There is a lot that can be borrowed from plus there are NGO’s who do good work in this area. In an European context, slowing of traffic, building of a long 1500 kilometer of 2+1 road system where two lanes take turn to occupy middle lane to overtake in Sweden, strict policing, heavy penalty (in Germany once license is revoked one has to pass physical and mental test to get it back), infrastructural changes, use of technology like cameras, speed governors for heavy vehicles have reduced accidents from 5 to 30%.

Pedestrian deaths, a major percentage of all fatalities can be reduced by providing safe space for pedestrians to walk, something that our cities, which sees the bulk of accident deaths lack. Effective policing is a prerequisite for enforcing helmet wearing, seat belt wearing, catching drunken drivers, vehicle standard maintenance etc. All of it has to be coupled with effective behavioral change measures, be it campaigns, advertisements (not the majority of what the government makes which incidentally is more funny than educative) or other interventions.

It must be understood that solutions to such complex problems cannot come from top down, it has to be an effort which involves schools and colleges where education is imparted, homes where awareness is present, policing which is present, fair and effective, infrastructural changes which reduce accidents, behavioral change campaigns which addresses long term concerns and civil society which is directly affected by the scourge of road accidents.

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