Grim statistics are evidently not enough to elicit corrective measures. The rising number of road fatalities, highlighted in annual public surveys, has bolstered India’s poor reputation when it comes to upholding road safety standards. The recent data in the report, Road Accidents in India 2022, released last week by the ministry of road transport and highways, show that there had been an increase of 9.4% in road accident deaths — the figure is as high as 1.68 lakh — in 2022 compared to 2021. This implies that about 462 Indians lose their lives in road mishaps every single day; this, in turn, translates to about one death every three minutes. The other findings of the report are equally worrying. An estimated 4.61 lakh accidents take place on national and state highways, expressways and other roads: this figure too shot up by nearly 12%. Among the states, Tamil Nadu recorded the highest number of accidents while Uttar Pradesh suffered the highest number of fatalities resulting from mishaps. Delhi has retained the top spot from the previous year among cities with the most fatalities. While urban roads registered 36% fewer accidents than their rural counterparts, urban road accidents have been attributed principally to overspeeding, along with other factors like human error, poor infrastructure and traffic rule violations. This indicates the increasingly discernible — and devastating — impact of a culture that fetishises speed. From vehicular advertisements’ disproportionate emphasis on speed to the public endorsement of quickfire deliveries of commodities by firms, speed, it is clear, thrills and kills Indians. The rise in the number of vehicles on India’s roads — many of them in unsteady, inexperienced hands — adds to the risk to public safety.
The government, of course, has been making the right noises on the matter. The car testing programme, Bharat NCAP, launched in August by the Union transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, looks promising. But not much will change unless the authorities demand, and the citizens adhere to, compliance. Rigorous checking of records before issuing driver’s licenses and punitive action against road rowdyism are a must. Road fatalities extract steep economic and demographic costs — accidents shave off 3% of the gross domestic product; the report indicates that most of the victims are of working age. The government and the people must wake up before jumping these glaring red signals.