Weak laws powerless against rash driving

URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Weak-traffic-laws-powerles...

Weak traffic laws powerless against irresponsible driving:

Gopinath Munde's tragic and untimely death is one more desperate wake-up call for road safety in India. For me, the news was particularly distressing as seven months ago, it was on the same road-Aurobindo Marg-that my cycle was hit by a reversing car. I was lucky that Good Samaritans picked me up and took me to the same Jai Prakash Narayan Apex Trauma Center at AIIMS where the wonderful doctors who tried their best to resuscitate union minister Munde worked to repair my hands, nose and internal bleeding.

I was fortunate to survive, but Munde, who had much to do, did not make it. This waste of human life because of sheer apathy and negligence should make us angry. It should make us change the way we design our roads, enforce traffic rules and, most importantly, take responsibility for our driving.

Let us be clear, traffic related-accidents are no small matter. WHO lists this among the top health agendas of the world. It says road accidents are the leading cause of death in the 15-29 age group. Worse, it is in our part of the world-lower and middle-income countries with a much lower number of vehicles-that 90% of the accidents occur. We drive, but without the roads and laws that make for safety. WHO also reports that nearly half of road fatalities are of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.

Delhi Police's database of accidents shows a small downward trend, which is good news, but of the 1,600 people killed on roads in 2013, as many as 673 were pedestrians. Altogether, the vulnerable road users-cyclists, pedestrians, rickshaw users and motorcyclists-made up 81% of road fatalities. Clearly, our roads are not meant for anybody who is not in a large, powerful vehicle. Our roads are not for walking.

It is no surprise that 60% of these accidents in Delhi were because of what police classify as the driver's fault-speeding, disobeying traffic rules and driving dangerously. It is clear that in India, unlike the developed countries, enforcement is poor and the law provides no deterrent against irresponsible driving. In most cases, the offending vehicle is never caught. In my case, the car hit and fled. I had no time to take down the vehicle number. There are no CCTV cameras in Delhi that capture accidents in real time. There is no way to catch, let alone convict.

It is also a fact that we are not designing our roads for safe use. We cannot walk, we cannot cycle in our cities. We cannot even cross the road safely to take a bus. Roads are engineered for cars. In this way, cars, which transport less than 13% of Delhi's daily commuters, take up 90% of the road space.

This must change. We need dignity and accessibility in our road design. Respect for pedestrians and cyclists has to be the cornerstone of city planning. It is time we reclaimed our roads.

Date of Article: 
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
The Times of India