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Killer roads

India witnesses one fatality every four minutes due to road accidents. This is a figure that should worry policymakers from both the Centre and the States respectively. In his radio address on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his government will soon implement a road safety policy and provide cashless treatment for accident victims. Expressing deep concern over the rising number of fatalities arising out of road accidents, Modi talked about extending the transport ministry’s scheme that provides cashless treatment for the first 50 hours to the victims to all national highways. At present, a pilot project is being run on the 200-km National Highway stretch between Jaipur and Gurgaon.  In view of this, the government will also introduce a Road Transport and Safety Bill in Parliament soon and work to implement the National Road Safety Policy and a Road Safety Action Plan. Modi said there would soon be a nationwide <g data-gr-id="35">toll free</g> number 1033 to provide information on accidents across the country. Official statistics <g data-gr-id="34">show</g> 15 to 16 people in road accidents in the country every hour or nearly 380 every day.

Having a stringent Act in place will save lives of both motorists and pedestrians. The city of Mumbai, for example, has witnessed an explosion of vehicles in the last decade, from barely 13 lakh to more than 25 lakh in March this year. A recent study into road fatalities in Mumbai has shown that between 2008 and 2012, more than 57% of those who died in road accidents were pedestrians and 31% were people on two-wheelers.  In fact, data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) states that Delhi recorded the highest number of road accident deaths in the country in 2014. To avoid such a scenario, better infrastructure needs to be brought in place first. In a scenario, where too many accidents occur at the same spot, the fault usually lies with the design of that particular road. 

Authorities usually makes highways in India without taking proper precautions like a separate paved road for local access, proper foot over bridges, restricted exits rather than free for all development of roadside eateries and shops. Without proper infrastructure nothing much can be done.

Instead of the central government, local municipal bodies should be given the freedom to decide the quantum of traffic fines, given the vast difference in socio-economic conditions across the country. Also, just the fear of paying heavy fines, without the actual implementation of these rules, will not bring about any road discipline. Moreover, all driving records need to be computerised. Authorities have run out of excuses not to conduct such an exercise.  A real time record would allow authorities to monitor habitual traffic offenders and ensure proper implementation of laws. Union Minister for Road Transport Nitin Gadkari on Sunday that the government will try to introduce Road Safety Bill in Parliament soon. Various experts in the field have, however, already begun questioning the dilution of certain stringent punishments for traffic offenders. The onus is now on the government to present a Bill that addresses this grave problem.
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