The opportunities for the infrastructure industries, especially those in road management, training, construction and maintenance, are brewing and will soon be a major activity, as an Act is on the anvil soon to promote road safety.
In 2007-8, the Sundar Committee drew policy and regulatory attention to the urgent need to systematise our approach to road safety. The recommendations now form the genesis of a Parliamentary Bill, the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board Bill, 2010. After the Upper House sought amendments to the Bill last year, it will now include not just national highways, but encompass all roads. It has taken three years for it to reach the Rajya Sabha for the final stage of approval.
The Committee's Chair S Sundar tells us why the recommendations were necessitated, laments that the current Bill is in a diluted form, and emphasises that road safety must be treated as a multi-sectoral issue where intervention must be at various sectoral levels, preferably coordinated by a single agency.
While there are structured programmes to combat communicable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS, with substantial allocation of public funds and lead agencies for implementation, there is no structured programme in India to combat road related morbidity and mortality despite the dire fact that India has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of road related morbidity and mortality.
Road safety is clearly a public health problem requiring concerted efforts for effective and sustainable prevention stop. As the 57th World Health Assembly states in its recommendations to member states, it is imperative:
1) to prepare and implement a national strategy on the prevention of road traffic injury2) to establish government leadership in road safety, including designating a single agency or focal point for road safety3) to facilitate multisectoral collaboration between different ministries and sectors including private transportation companies, communities and civil society4) to explore the possibilities to increase funding for road safety including through the creation of a fund.
Programmes to promote road safety should be developed and implemented using the public health approach of identifying the problem and the risks, identifying the appropriate interventions based on cost-effectiveness, sustainability and culture specificity and finally evaluating these interventions by the actual reduction in injuries and deaths. Such an approach does not exist in India.
Road safety is also an equity issue. In a country like India the majority of victims are the vulnerable road users-pedestrians and cyclists and motorised two-wheeler riders.
They are also predominantly male, within the age group of 5-44 years, demographically the most productive section of society. Children saved earlier from communicable and infectious diseases are now becoming victims of this man-made epidemic. Studies have shown that large numbers of families where the breadwinners were killed were reduced to poverty and privation. The social costs suffered by countries on account of road crashes are enormous.
Integrated, multidimensional intervention
Road safety is a multidimensional and multi-sectoral issue calling for multiple interventions. These interventions need to be combined and implemented in an integrated manner to derive maximum benefits from each intervention. A sound road safety policy will, therefore, have to identify all relevant interventions and commit the governments to addressing them in a holistic and integrated manner. Most countries in the world have a stated policy to reduce road accidents, injuries and fatalities and have set themselves targets. Commitments to reduce road related morbidity and mortality in these countries have been made at the highest political level. India, unfortunately, has not yet adopted a National Road Safety Policy. Therefore, the Sundar Committee has suggested a road safety policy which commits the national government and the state governments to effect a significant improvement in road safety through all the relevant interventions.
Since the 1970s, developed countries, where the ratio of cars to population is much higher than in our country, have succeeded in reversing the trend of road related mortality through adequately funded strategic interventions based on the safe systems approach. The developing world, including India, with a lower vehicle population, is witnessing an increase in road related mortality.
No rocket science: Developed countries have displayed a strong political commitment to reverse the increasing trend of road related mortality.
Second, they have formulated road safety policies and strategies to reduce accidents and deaths. These strategies are based on the 'safe system approach', which addresses the problem as a multisectoral and multidimensional problem, an approach that rests on good road user behaviour, safe roads and safe vehicles.
Third, these interventions are backed by appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks.
Fourth, there is a recognition of the need to have one agency, with adequate powers and funds, to lead and coordinate the implementation of the strategy. These are all interventions which should be adopted by India.
Road Safety Committee
Concerned about this relentless increase in road related mortality at a time when massive investments are being made to create more road space, the Government of India constituted an expert Committee in 2007 to advise it on the way forward. The Committee, which I chaired, noted that the United Nations General Assembly in its 60th Session called upon member states to 'establish a lead agency, on a national level on road safety to develop a national action plan to reduce traffic injuries, were passing of enforcing legislation'. The committee also noted that while no country had one agency solely responsible for addressing all aspects of road safety, efficient inter-agency and inter-departmental coordination was found to be critical. The chapter also noted that agencies like NHTSA in USA and SNRA in Sweden were evolved as successful models with the power and budgets to plan and implement road safety programmes. The Committee recognised that road safety is a multisectoral problem and cannot be effectively addressed unless the different agencies dealing with different aspects of road safety were brought under one umbrella to take an integrated and holistic approach.
To make this possible, the Committee recommended the setting up of a National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board with adequate expertise and autonomy and a National Road Safety Fund and similar Road Safety Boards and Funds at the state level. The Functions of the Board were comprehensive and included setting safety standards for roads and for vehicles, advising on traffic laws and traffic management, promoting road safety research, capacity building, promoting best practices and setting up effective trauma care centres. The functions of the Board, as envisaged by the Committee, were:
1. Road engineering and construction
2. Vehicle safety design
3. Crash investigation, data collection and analysis
4. Knowledge production, research and institutional linkages
5. Road user behaviour strategies, public awareness and education
6. Capacity building and training
7. Traffic management and enforcement
8. Post-trauma medical care
9. Other functions
In order to expedite the implementation of its recommendations the Committee also provided the government with a Road Safety and Traffic Management Bill to be enacted by Parliament.
1% cess for road safety: The Committee also noted that The Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure had decided that 1 per cent of the cess accruing to the National Highways should be employed to create a National Road Safety Fund. The Committee felt that this was inadequate and recommended that a minimum of 1 per cent of the total proceeds of the cess on diesel and petrol should be made available to the National Road Safety Fund.
Several activities relating to road safety like the enforcement of safety laws fall within the jurisdiction of the state governments and city governments. The Committee, therefore, recommended an increased allocation to accident prone urban conglomerations and states. In order to ensure that the states took effective measures the Committee recommended that on the lines of the practice in the United States, states should be required to make commitments annually on what they will do and be funded on the basis of their performance. The Board would be responsible to obtain these agreements and monitor their compliance.
Unfortunately, the Bill that has been tabled is a diluted version of the draft bill submitted by the Committee. Nevertheless, it constitutes the first major step that the Government is proposing to take to promote road safety in a comprehensive and integrated manner. It is important that Government should adopt a National Road Safety Policy and set up the Board at the earliest. In the meanwhile, stakeholders and civil society should continue to engage with government and come up with innovative ideas and solutions to further the cause of road safety.
The Sundar Committee, which submitted its policy report on road safety in 2007, aimed to:
Organisations involved in road safety
The author chaired the Sundar Committee on Road Safety and Traffic Management, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India. (The report was authored in 2008.) He is former Secretary, Ministry of Surface Transport, and is a Distinguished Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).