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Road safety policy: Diluted but a good step forward

Road safety policy: Diluted but a good step forward

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 injury
2) to establish government leadership in road safety, including designating a single agency or focal point for road safety
3) to facilitate multisectoral collaboration between different ministries and sectors including private transportation companies, communities and civil society
4) 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

  • Set/approve road safety standards
  • Conduct/commission Road safety audits at all stages
  • Conduct/commission Black spot treatment
  • Recommend traffic calming

2. Vehicle safety design

  • Set Safety standards
  • Conduct/commission vehicle safety audits

3. Crash investigation, data collection and analysis

  • Establish procedures for data collection, transmission, analyses at various levels
  • Maintain a comprehensive database
  • Establish procedures and centres for multi-disciplinary crash investigations

4. Knowledge production, research and institutional linkages

  • Ientify areas and subjects for research
  • Commission research projects
  • Create linkages between institutions at local, regional and national level

5. Road user behaviour strategies, public awareness and education

  • Promote education and campaigns on road safety amongst all user groups
  • Recognizse and facilitate NGOs working in the area

6. Capacity building and training

  • Set guidelines for building capacity and skills in the traffic police, hospitals, highway authorities, NGOs and other organizations involved with road safety

7. Traffic management and enforcement

  • Encourage state governments to implement laws for helmet use, seat-belt use, drunken driving, etc.
  • Encourage state governments to computerise details regarding vehicle and driver licensing
  • Regulate drivers' working hours
  • Set guidelines for driver training and testing
  • Prescribe safety standards and infrastructure for non-motorised transport

8. Post-trauma medical care

  • Set guidelines to establish grid of trauma care centres in the country
  • Set guidelines to create a grid of medical and paramedical facilities for dealing with highway injuries
  • Emphasise pre-hospital and acute care and rehabilitation

9. Other functions

  • Enter into agreements with state governments, monitor compliance
  • Recommend policies to government
  • Liaise with other agencies-education, health, etc.
  • Qualify, register and recommend grants to NGOs
  • Liaise with international agencies and other countries
  • Administer the Dedicated Road Safety Fund

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 framework:

The Sundar Committee, which submitted its policy report on road safety in 2007, aimed to:

  • Set safety standards in consultation with IRC for the design, construction and operation of the national highways, including road infrastructure and furniture.
  • Conduct/commission road safety audits of national highway projects through all phases (pre, during and post) to monitor adherence to prescribed standards and issue directions ,where necessary, to take corrective action
  • Recommend minimum safety standards for the design, construction and operation for roads other than National Highways;
  • Conduct / commission black spot surveys and recommend treatment
  • Recommend traffic calming and similar safety practices.

Organisations involved in road safety

  • National Road Safety Council (NRSC), headed by the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, is the apex advisory body on road safety;
  • The Transport Development Council (TDC) chaired by the Union Minister of Transport, with the Union Ministers of Commerce, Industry, Railways and Member in-charge of Transport in Planning Commission as members is a high level forum for the formulation of common policies for the development of road transport. It also includes all the Lt. Governors/Chief Commissioners of union territories and all Ministers in charge of Transport in the state governments.
  • The Road Transport Division in the Ministry has three sections dealing with motor vehicle legislation, transport related matters and administration of road safety schemes. A Joint Secretary who is assisted by one Director and two Under Secretaries heads the Division. Engineering aspects of safety in the design, construction and operation of roads are dealt with by the Roads Wing of the Department of Road Transport and Highways. It is headed by Director-General (Road Development) and Special Secretary assisted by two additional Directors General and some 16 Chief Engineers.
  • The Roads Wing sets standards for safety in the design, construction and operation of national highways in consultation with the Indian Roads Congress (IRC). IRC also lays down standards and guidelines for road and bridge engineering including road safety).
  • International Roads Federation (IRF), which has made recommendations on road safety, accepted and notified by MORTH.
  • National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), set up by the Government of India in 1988 under an Act of Parliament, has been entrusted with the task of implementing the massive National Highway Development Projects (NHDP). NHAI also deploys ambulance services and highway patrolling to provide medical care for accident victims.
  • Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), New Delhi (a Laboratory of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) that carries out research and development in the field of road, road safety and transportation).

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).

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