Pothole-reporting apps, more ambulances and speed checks are no substitute for prevention. As with all public health approaches, road injury prevention requires effective management to put in place sustainable and evidence-based measures and overcome obstacles to implementing safe practices.
India needs to aim for safe and sustainable road systems. Research and development over the past few decades in the West have proved that a range of interventions exist to prevent crashes and injury.
India has many good intentions, rules and statutes on its books but the gap between what is known to be effective and what is actually practiced on the ground is often wide. A commitment to injury prevention is lacking.
India does not seem to have a road surveillance system. Under-reporting of road injuries is common and hides a major public health problem; police and health data only provide partial accounts of the magnitude and nature of the issues. This is particularly true of non-fatal, yet severely disabling, outcomes. There is need for accurate data collection systems. These will aid in planning interventions and designing better and more appropriate road systems.
Design and Certification
There is also need to seriously examine and correct lapses and inadequacies in road design and planning. Periodic fitness certification for all motorized vehicles, universalized road signs and enforcement of law and safety regulations are crucial. Driving tests should be made more stringent and should test knowledge in addition to driving skills. They need to be conducted on regular roads. Refresher training and re-testing should be introduced. We should have zero tolerance of underage drivers. India needs to consider severe penalties for violations; cumulative penalties for recurrent infringements should result in temporary withdrawal of licenses or a permanent ban on driving.
Road traffic systems are highly complex and can be dangerous to human health. Injury prevention requires an extremely coordinated effort on the part of the government and society. It mandates a “systems approach;” understanding the system as a whole, the interaction between its elements, and the identification of points of intervention. Road safety is a shared responsibility. It requires political will and administrative commitment from the government, industry, public works departments and law-enforcement and health agencies. Governments need to identify lead agencies to guide the effort, research the problems and policies, prepare the strategy and action plans, allocate human and financial resources and implement specific interventions. Non-governmental and community organizations can play an important role by highlighting the issues, studying local problems, educating and informing the general public and suggesting solutions.
A combination of legislation, enforcement of laws and education of road-users can significantly improve compliance with key safety rules, thereby reducing injuries. While strategies from developed countries can be adopted, there is also need to study the local context and implement relevant interventions and plans to improve road safety. The current rates of morbidity and mortality due to road injuries are both unacceptable and avoidable. Road safety should be high up on the political, administrative and community agenda.
Let’s vouch to have no more accidental deaths on roads due to road condition going forward!