Time for Action
Despite several norms castigating rash driving, road accidents continue to plague modern India as unprecedented crashes burn down vehicles and abruptly end innocent lives, writes Piyush Ohrie.
Saima and Ayat had not even crossed the age of six. Let alone death, they weren't yet equipped to fully comprehend the meaning of life. On April 24, the two minor girls, nevertheless, encountered horrific death.
Travelling with their mother Afsana in a bike driven by their maternal uncle Irshad, a speeding dumper hit the bike which then rammed into an SUV in Sohna in the outskirts of Gurugram. Irshad, Afsana, Saima and Ayat all died at the spot. The only survivor of this horrific accident was one-year-old Zaid – supported by high-end medical treatment, he was unaware that he had lost his mother and two sisters forever.
In prosperous Gurugram, which has now been promisingly titled Icon City, this poignant story was just another chapter lost in the hustle-bustle of the metropolis. A day after this incident, two students of a private university, both in their early-20's, lost their life after their car crashed into a truck. The tale of horror and death did not end here. In one of the most grisly incidents, on April 29, two people – the driver and the traveller – were charred after their CNG operated vehicle caught fire on being hit by a truck from behind. This mishap occurred at Rajiv Chowk at the Delhi-Jaipur Highway where the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has built a world class flyover to facilitate the smooth flow of traffic. The death was so awful that it took a day or two for the body of the traveller to be identified. In a sheer irony, all these accidents occurred at a time when the state government was observing the road safety week.
On July 29, 2016, just 46 mm of rain that lasted for less than three hours resulted in commuters being stranded for over 20 hours at National Highway-8. Fast-forward to 2018, a major achievement cited by the Haryana government in its tenure is the revamping of the Delhi-Jaipur highway which is used by 10 lakh commuters everday.
Besides the renewed NH-8, 2017 proved to be a boon for commuters on the Golf Course Road. After more than four years of development, not only was the second phase of the rapid metro started but two underpasses were constructed at the route that houses among the most expensive properties in the country. There are now plans to even revamp the Sohna Road. While crores are being pumped to make the roads of Gurugram world-class, the issue of commuters' safety persists as a major challenge. Gurugram topped the list among districts of Haryana with the highest number of deaths in road mishaps in 2017. On an average, nine accidents occur daily in Millennium City. In 2014, there were 1180 accident cases, leading to 430 deaths. In 2015, the cases dropped marginally to 1140 but the death toll rose to 435, while in 2016, there were 1201 accidents leading to 420 deaths. In 2017, 481 people lost their lives on the roads of Gurugram.
The young city that is now progressing towards being a smart city, lacks comprehensive planning in road safety inviting criticism for its planners and administration. Yet, Gurugram is only the tip of the iceberg, with the Apex Court, in 2013, describing the situation as a national crisis. The staggering data only goes on to prove this claim. According to the government figures, in every four minutes, one person dies in a road accident. 17 people lose their lives in an hour due to mishaps on the road. In over a decade, over ten lakh people have died due road mishaps. 40 per cent of the victims include pedestrians and two-wheel drivers.
For a country that prides itself as a young nation, most victims of the road rash tragedy are people aged between 16 to 28 years. Losses incurred due to road accidents amount to Rs one lakh crore every year. For a country that is still struggling on accounts of providing quality health care, education and ease of living for its common citizens, this loss is of serious concern.
A recent study by the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) observes that, across the national capital region there was a mismatch in the time of pedestrians crossing the road and the duration of the traffic signal lights. While the average time for the pedestrian to cross the road was four minutes, the time span for the traffic lights was two minutes. Faulty road designs, poor signage systems and inefficient management of traffic makes the roads far more accident prone.
The expansion of Gurugram in the last 20 years has had an adverse effect on the road designs. As traffic escalated suddenly, most areas were quickly developed into roads. In most cases, no heed was paid to proper diversions, design and structure. "We are now trying to rectify the mistakes that were done earlier. We have also appointed a consultant to correct the designs of roads that were found to be unsafe," said an official from Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority. What makes matters worse is the utter disregard for law displayed by various commuters who brazenly flout the traffic rules.
On May 6, a 30-year-old woman pilot, reporting for duty, was critically injured after her car was hit by an over-speeding SUV. The SUV that was travelling at a speed of more than 100 kmph was coming from the wrong side of the underpass constructed in the Golf Course Road area of Gurugram. The driver and the security guard, who were travelling with the woman pilot, died on the spot. Identified as Vinod Yadav and Kishore Yadav, they had come from different districts of Uttar Pradesh to ensure better living for their families.
The CCTV images that have been now released, show how these two lives could have been saved had those passing by taken the initiative to save them. In the case of extreme human apathy, CCTV images show more than 50 vehicles passing from 5:30 to 6:30 am, the time after the mishap had occurred. Despite the nearest hospital being a stone's throw away, nobody gathered the courage to assist the victims. Shockingly, many took photographs and shot videos which were later uploaded on social media platforms.
"The first two hours are considered to be golden hours of survival for the victim. At this juncture, basic awareness and proper display of steps by Samaritans can prevent excessive bleeding and save the patient's life," said Dr BK Rajoura, Chief Medical Officer, Gurugram district health department.
Warning that patients should not be made to consume water, the doctor added, "Making the victim consume water in most situations causes the lungs to aspirate leading to further complications or even death."
Another shocking figure is that 30 per cent of the licenses are fraudulent. Just few kilometres away from the national capital, there were reports in Ghaziabad of how false licenses were being provided within a few minutes. According to top officials, most truck drivers on the plank of plying in different states obtain multiple licenses. If they are involved in an accident and have to surrender their license, they can still travel to another state with legal documents that permit them to drive.
"Earlier we were less careless, now we have become callous. Lives and emotions do not matter to us anymore. You travel to any road of any big city and you will see an overloaded truck, driving without speed governors. He knows that he is risking the life of other commuters but he wants to save the cost for the owner so that he can get his cut. It is shameful," said Rajeev Jain, a commuter in Gurugram
Amendments were made in the Motor Vehicle Act of 1988 and the new motor vehicle act of 2016 was presented in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha with amendments ensuring strict licensing norms and vehicle safety features. The Bill is yet to be passed. The Government of India observes road safety week every year. In 2016, the theme for road safety week was 'Time for Action' where it was decided that the rate of fatal accidents will be reduced. India has a total road network of 50 lakh km. The challenge for the government is to not only ensure that this network is enhanced but also made safer.
In a country of 1.25 billion people priding itself of having a demographic dividend, it is important to ponder over whether we are valuing human life considering that 400 lives are lost every day on Indian streets. As for us on an individual level, it is important to realise that when we are entrusted with the responsibility to drive, we are not only accountable for ourselves, but also those in our vehicle's periphery. It is time for empathy.