September 04, 2022

75 Years since Independence: Where India Stands in Road Accidents?

R Lakshmaiah

THE government celebrated ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ to mark 75 years of India’s Independence in a big way. Like many other burning issues of the people, the major issue of road accidents/fatalities and the miseries of the victims and their families was also ignored or sidelined. The government has recently released the statistics and an analysis report on road accidents.

India stands number one in the world in road accidents and related deaths. As many as 1,31,714 persons were killed and 3,48,279 injured due to road accidents in 2020. On an average daily 1,003 road accidents took place and 360 persons lost their lives. The most worrisome fact is that 70 per cent of the deaths are between the age group of 18-45. 

In a message to the report, road transport and highways minister,  Nitin Gadkari has rightly said, “The cost of road accidents is borne not only by the victims and their family, but by the economy as a whole in terms of untimely deaths, injuries, disabilities and loss of potential income.” He also claims that the government is taking many steps to reduce accidents and cited the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act 2019 as one major step. What is in it? Clause 46, Section 135(iii) (3) of the amended Act says “the central government may by notification in the official gazette, make one or more schemes to conduct in-depth studies on the causes and analysis of road accidents”. What does it mean? Were there no studies and analysis till that date? If so, they should have formulated schemes, conducted studies and after thorough analysis, they could have gone for amendment of the act if warranted. Without doing this they have brought the amendment. There lies the real conspiracy.


The lowest accident rate is recorded with the state road transport corporations. STUs bag the road safety awards every year. In such a situation, any government which is really committed to reduce accidents and to save the lives of the people should strengthen and expand STUs. But in the amendment, the earlier Stage Carriage and Contract Carriage permits system has been substituted with “transport permit”. This legalises the illegal operations by private operators who are operating the contract carriage permits as stage carriages and looting the legitimate revenues of STUs. Further many clauses and sub-clauses were incorporated to encourage private operators with an intention to dismantle the existing STUs. It is further stated in the accident report that “buses accounted for highest decline in number of accidents and fatalities in the year 2020”. Ironically, the share of all types of buses in the total registered vehicles is only 0.7 per cent. The availability of buses is very low in India. The most important aspect and central point in bringing the amendment act is to hand over the entire transport industry, both private and STUs, to the giant corporates within and outside India.  


 The national highways constitute only 2.1 per cent of the total road network in India. But they account for 31.8 per cent accidents and 35.9 per cent deaths. The state highways constitute 3 per cent and account for 24.8 per cent of the accidents. This is because of lack of segregation of roads according to the speed of the vehicles. All the vehicles like two wheelers, three wheelers and heavy vehicles have to pass through the same road. National Highway/Expressways neither pass through villages nor gives scope to take right turn in between. But in India that rule is grossly violated by contractors. A large number of “black spots” (accident prone) are identified on highways, but are unattended leaving the people to die. Defective construction and poor maintenance of highways are causing accidents. We can quote innumerable examples in this regard. The Kerala High Court recently issued notice to the NHAI asking what action has been taken against the contractor for poor maintenance of a highway which caused the death of a motorcyclist. This is the fate of highways in India.

The government claims credit for fast construction of highways. But the transport secretary in his message to the accident report has rightly stated that “with rising motorisation and expanding road network, travel risks and traffic exposure grow at a much faster rate. The growth of registered vehicles always outnumbers population growth and new roads constructed.” According to the accident report, two-wheelers constitute 74.8 per cent of the total registered vehicles and account for 43.5 per cent of the accident deaths. This proves badly the neglect of providing sufficient and affordable public transport. The government encourages purchase of own vehicles (personal transport). It is crystal clear that by providing sufficient and affordable public transport, road accidents can be minimised, deaths, injuries and the wealth of the nation can be saved. This is established in the report: “The increase in personalised means of transport and decline in share of public transport have significant implications on traffic congestion and safety”. 

When we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Independence, the rate of illiteracy is 26 per cent. The awareness on “traffic rules and road safety” is grossly neglected. Only at the orders of the Supreme Court, this has been incorporated in the CBSE curriculum. The government is spending thousands of crores of rupees for advertisements. But on this vital issue, it is zero. This reflects in the accident report that 69 per cent of the accidents and fatalities taking place on national and state highways, is in rural areas.

Road Infrastructure is the most important area to reduce accidents. But the government has failed in this regard. In Europe and Britain, large signboards are erected on roads displaying weather conditions, accident information, etc. Facilities for drivers to rest are provided for every 50 km and there is no provision for the vehicles to take right turn on national/express highways except at the junctions. At junctions or in some places, all facilities like parking, fuel filling, restaurants, washrooms, etc are provided. Highways do not pass through villages. CCTV cameras are installed not only on highways but on all the roads including cities.

In the UK and Europe, stringent rules and systems are followed for issuing driving licence. Practical training on roads, theoretical and practical examinations without any influence or intervention are conducted. In these countries, the first lane is kept empty for use in emergencies. No other vehicle enters that lane. Slow moving vehicles go in the second lane and high-speed vehicles on the third lane. We will find neither blowing of horn nor jumping the signal even at midnight. Pedestrian is given top most importance. This is because of creating awareness in a big way not only among vehicle drivers but also all other road users.

For improving road safety, we suggest the following:

1) STUs should be strengthened. About 50,000 old buses in all STUs together should be replaced forthwith. Approximately another 20,000 buses are required for expansion. Altogether, this will cost hardly Rs 18,000 to 20,000 crore for diesel engine buses. Instead of going for electric buses immediately, diesel buses can be procured. The Government of India should bear this meagre amount in public interest. Further, the capital contribution to STUs as stipulated in the RTC Act 1950, which was stopped, should be restored. By doing so, the public will get sufficient and affordable transport. Accidents will be minimised, personalised transport will be curbed, precious oil resources will be saved, traffic congestion will be reduced and travel time will be saved. 

2) The Motor Vehicles Amendment Act 2019 should be repealed and suitable amendments shall be brought in consultation with all stakeholders.

3) Road infrastructure is to be developed. Stringent action like imprisonment, cancellation of contract, etc should be enforced against contractors for defective road construction and poor maintenance.

4) Traffic rules and road safety should be incorporated in the curriculum from Classes 5 to 12.

5) Awareness campaigns should be conducted in a big way for all people.