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Sambit Dash

Since a few days, a social media movement of #SelfieWithHelmet has captured some attention in Odisha. This awareness campaign is in lieu of the large number of road accidents in the state. The average citizen has made small moves in this long and tough battle of addressing road safety, it is time the administration makes the next.

In the year 2015-16 in Odisha, a total of 4303 people died in road accidents. There were more than ten thousand accidents in that year in which nearly 15 people got seriously injured, daily. These alarming figures are despite relatively low vehicles as compared to other states. The loss to the State due to these accidents was pegged at Rs 700 crore nearly four years back.

Nine districts in Odisha, namely Sundargarh, Angul, Sambalpur, Jajpur, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Balasore, Ganjam and Bhubaneswar Urban Police District, account for almost 45% of all road fatalities. State Road Safety Council, in April this year asked collectors of these districts to submit action plans in a month to address this problem. Since the collectors happen to head (and I don’t see a good reason for such) District Road Safety Committees, they should be held accountable for inaction.

In view of the fact that the districts and the particular roads which see high accident rates have been identified, they should serve as the starting points. The reader will vouch for the absence of any sort of traffic policing in roads of the majority of those nine districts. Even if there is, it is cosmetic. Neither would have anyone ever seen an interceptor vehicle frequently patrolling roads to put a check on rash driving. At the same time, the Rs 500 fine for not wearing seat belt in Bhubaneswar would have nudged most to comply. Implement the law Mr Minister and you will observe change.

Road infrastructure is only partly responsible for accidents. If NCRB data is to be considered, it can be observed that less than 1% accidents have occurred due to poor road infrastructure. But it cannot be ignored. Just a day back the road ministry in the Parliament said that 3409 people lost their lives in 2015, while 9764 got injured due to speed breakers. This is an example of when multiple agencies act on roads and without any accountability. Let the ministry clarify roles and declare it for the public.

Careless driving, over-speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs have accounted for almost 69% of all accidents in India in 2015. The figures would be similar for Odisha too. It is time the ministry facilitates driver (re)education, creates deterrence for over-speeding and punishes drivers who drive under influence of alcohol. But is the ministry equipped; have the technical knowledge, manpower and wherewithal to do all of it? Coupled with the causes, it is equally important to have Emergency Care to reduce fatalities and injuries. There is a gross lack of it in Odisha.

While the #SelfieWithHelmet is a good gesture, the administration needs to move beyond the traditional awareness campaigns to deal with this all important issue. Human behaviour is not rational and thus behaviour altering measures need to come on the roads. There are plenty of successful experiments worldwide to draw from. The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has a 4 ‘E’s (Education, Engineering (of vehicles and roads), Enforcement & Emergency Care) strategy to address issue of road safety. Plus, there is no lack of research and resources in road safety. If Odisha is to align with India’s overambitious target of reducing fatalities due to road accidents by 50% in two years, it needs to start from the basics and on a war footing.

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