Home » Vox pop: Independent road safety body needed for enforcement: Experts

Vox pop: Independent road safety body needed for enforcement: Experts

Vox pop: Independent road safety body needed for enforcement: Experts

Although nearly everyone agrees that road safety rests in books alone, and that very little of it is practised on Indian roads, the more concerning fact is that not much is being done even now. Our experts hail new measures on the anvil, but remark sceptically that enforcement will remain the key.

Agencies like NHTSA in USA and SNRA in Sweden, have the power and budgets to plan and implement road safety programmes, and are identified as the most successful models for ensuring road safety. Can India have such a self-sustaining body? Should the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) be made into that body?

It will be appropriate to create a self-sustaining and independent body to ensure road safety in the country. The body should be represented by all the stakeholders rather than being governed by a single agency.

Having an independent agency to plan and enforce the road safety measures will certainly help. Many times, road safety is determined by factors like road construction or road maintenance. Hence the implementation programmes should continue
to be in the scope of agencies like the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), Public Works Departments (PWDs) and Municipal Corporations. The independent agency should be empowered to penalise the agencies for lack of implementation or enforcement. This scheme has been successful in the USA and should work in India too.

In India, The Indian Road Congress (IRC) is an autonomous and self-sustaining body that defines the safety standards for road safety. NHAI's safety wing ensures implementation. It would be a good proposal to have a separate body or institute

NHAI is only one of the agencies dedicated only to develop National Highways. NHAI itself lacks the area of Research and depends mostly on Consultancies to carry out their work.

Yes. India should have an autonomous and a self-sustaining body to plan and implement road safety programmes if we seriously want to make our roads safer. Besides the power and budget, the right intentions are also required. NHAI does have road safety components in their charters, but they are rarely implemented. in practice, the NHAI itself, the BOT contractors and other stakeholders should come under the scanner of this body. The implementing agency itself should not be the monitoring agency.

It is high time the self-sustaining body saw the light of the day as we have attained the dubious distinction of having the highest number of deaths on the roads. The road engineering component is seen as the major contributing factor to these road crashes.

What are the methods that the government is / should be adopting to ensure a commitment to reduce road accidents?

India loses more than 100,000 lives due to road traffic crashes every year. The country has a road traffic fatality rate of 16.8 deaths per 100,000 population. Approximately, half of all the deaths on the country's roads are vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists. Though there are laws on speed, overloading of vehicles, seatbelts or helmets, and drunk driving, they are poorly enforced. For example, overloading of the commercial vehicles is not only one of the major safety hazards in our country, but also reduce the life of roads and bridges. The dangerous practice was banned through the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act, but even after a judgement by Supreme Court, it has not been implemented properly. No proper laws have been devised, and those that are devised are not meant and dealt with properly.

Various measures can be taken to implement better road safety. But before that, the government, automobile manufacturers, associated institutions, and most importantly, the users need to need to take a pro-active and preventive approach to reduce loss of life and property.

Here are some of the best accident prevention strategies for road safety:

• Make vehicles safer: Every car manufacturer should first increase the list of standard safety features on their models. The government can make important automobile safety features mandatory.
• Sustainable transport system: An efficient and cost conscious public transport system is of great significance in encouraging people to travel in their own vehicles.
• Improved infrastructure: Improving the road conditions in the country is of utmost importance. The initiative for this lies with the government and the people. Infrastructure improvement does not just include the filling up of potholes and s in roads, but also the addition of street lights, safe crossings, and footpaths for pedestrians.
• Impart driving skills: More number of driving schools need to be inaugurated to impart the best driving skills and training to all those who desire to drive. Maruti Suzuki, a leading car manufacturer, is a leading supporter of road safety and has set an example by establishing many driving schools across the country. Recently, Maruti also introduced the National Road Safety Mission according to which the company promises to train about 5 Lakh unskilled drivers over a period of five years.
• Enforcing speed limits: The government and traffic authorities have set speed limits for various different vehicles on roads. Unfortunately, there are very few who follow these rules and even fewer who enforce the safety regulations. The upper limits on speed need to be optimised to regulate traffic and improve road safety.
• Strict action against faulty driving: Traffic authorities should take strict action against those who violate traffic rules and regulations. A strong approach should be taken to discourage all activities termed dangerous while driving such as the consumption of alcohol or usage of mobile phones.

Linking fund release for highways and city infrastructure to road safety enforcement would be an effective method. Besides this, a separate road safety fund should also be released. As I mentioned, it should be linked to fulfilment of the commitment to road safety spends.

Till now, apart from the annual ritual of 'Road Safety Week' which is perfomed in the first week of January, no sincere or concentrated effort has been made by the government, either at a national or state level, to curb the road crashes.

The United Nations will launch a 'Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020' on the 11 May 2011 with a goal to stabilise and then reduce the forecast level of road traffic fatalities around the world by increasing activities conducted at the national, regional and global levels. The campaign will work to hold governments and institutions to their commitments, to ensure that the Decade is full of Action.

So, all the government needs to do now is to show real political will, desire and eagerness to reduce the crashes by joining this Global Safety bandwagon and by implementing various road infrastructure agreements under the UN framework. The government should also assess road infrastructure and improved safety-conscious planning, design, construction and operation of roads. The Good Practices Manuals have been developed jointly by the World Health Organisation, Global Road Safety Partnership and the FIA Foundation; we need to only follow and implement them. Besides this, Global Agencies like the World Bank Road Safety Facility and the World Health Organisation are keen to share their experiences.

Vijay Vikram
Wherever medians are provided on highways, controlled access for motor vehicles is required to be created. As far as the pedestriation facilities are considered, in the process of widening of roads, we have eaten into footpaths. Skywalks should have non-slippery slope-climbers instead of steps.

The Ministry of Road Transportation and Highways should ensure that the standards laid down by IRC are duly communicated and understood by concerned people.

Further, NHAI, which looks after the enforcement, should maintain constant interaction with the road developers, contractors and BOT operators to ensure that the standards are adhered to and properly implemented at each project.

DTC has a dedicated Road Safety Cell functioning round-the-clock for attending to any mishap involving DTC buses. The accidents are categorised in the following categories.

1. Significant
2. Minor
3. Major
4. Fatal

On the basis of the observation of relevant causes the accidents are analysed and remedial measures are taken for reduction or prevention of road accidents. DTC has taken many steps to curb the accidents, which are as follows:

Training Camps: Dos and Don'ts for strict compliance by the DTC drivers are announced out at Public Address System in Depots, through notice boards and also taught in training camps organised twice in a month at depot level.

To check the incidents of fatal accidents involving DTC drivers a Committee has been formed at Training School of DTC to re-assess the skills of the drivers involved in fatal accidents and immediate action is taken on the recommendation of this committee.

In addition to this, drivers are being sent for Refresher Training of three days at least once in six months.

Among the factors that need government's commitment in reducing accidents, the following immediately pertain to infrastructure, construction and maintenance:

Traffic Engineering: Traffic engineering was initiated in the developed countries like the UK in 1930 and the US in 1932. As on date, all the developed countries have their own traffic engineering centres but the developing countries like India still has not emphasised on traffic engineering. The traffic engineering part is looked after by traffic police (through their inspectors), who often have no idea of traffic engineering. Hence, it is the responsibility of the government to set up proper traffic engineering centres, interactive systems, road safety audits, and research and road safety education centres.

Vehicle Designs: Research is required on the design of vehicles considering the safety aspects especially when the public service vehicles are being operated on CNG Mode. As CNG is very vulnerable to fire hence the material of the vehicle, the location of gas cylinders on the vehicle and provision of escaping of gas in case of leakage are the main parameters to be considered while designing the vehicle. In addition to this, the aspect of speed limit should also be considered keeping in view the Indian conditions of the road.

Road Safety Audits: A Road Safety Audit (RSA) is a proven methodology for ensuring that various safety deficiencies and designs are reviewed at appropriate stage in a cost-effective way. It can ensure the review of various safety deficiencies in the roads, which can be done away with during the process of designing roads or carrying out operations on them. It is to be carried out by persons who are independent of the original design team so that objectivity is maintained in the audit. RSA should become an integral part of highway planning, design, construction and maintenance.

1. As it stands today, Traffic Management is not defined and no responsibilities are in operation.
The Transport Department must be made the nodal responsible authority, which should spell out the responsibilities of the Ministries of Home, Heavy industry, Health, Urban Development, Education, Finance, Social Welfare, Petrochemicals and Environment. Responsibility of those corporates and institutions must be spelt out.
2. Standards of Road Geometrics and Traffic Control Devices generated by the Indian Roads Congress are hardly based on Scientific Research which have failed to meet the needs of the mixed traffic conditions in India. Much needs to be done in this direction.
3. Police must initiate the process of scientific crash investigation. Today most of road crashes in India are not scientifically investigated and analysed. Unless the factual causes and consequences are known, the remedial measures will remain to be arbitrary.

The Committee on Infrastructure had decided that one per cent of the cess accruing to the National Highways should be employed to create a National Road Safety Fund. Has this happened? How are the funds utilised? Is one per cent a good enough amount to address safety requirements completely?

We are not aware whether such a fund exists or not. However, it would always be a welcome concept to utilise such funds for spreading awareness amongst road users or for organising various safety standards implementation activities.

I can't comment on the utilisation of funds. However, one per cent of the cess is insignificant considering the road safety fatalities every year. The funds required to achieve fatalities reduction targets needs to be arrived scientifically. One can get references from other countries that have implemented successful strategies to reduce fatalities. Although the Indian situation is different, experts can definitely devise a method to arrive at such strategies too.

If two per cent of social losses of road safety is invested amounting to Rs 1,500 crore, a massive improvement in road safety would be visible.

What quantum of funds would be required for the Road Safety Act to be implemented for engineering, legal, maintenance and awareness purposes?

India loses nearly three percent of its GDP in road crashes. If we use this simple yardstick, the cess should be increased to three percent at least till we bring things under control. A business-like approach is needed for activities related to road safety, and with a one percent cess we can't get the desired results as and this complex issue needs intervention on all fronts.

The quantum will vary according to the value / range of the project. In other words, if a project cost is Rs 50 crore, then around two per cent of the project cost will be adequate for implementation of the safety. Similarly it should be about one per cent for projects ranging between Rs 50 crore to Rs 100 crore, 0.75 per cent for projects between Rs 100 crore to Rs 150 Crore, and so on.

Are our BOT contracts cutting safety corners? What elements would you bring into our contracts to ensure that our accident rate goes down below the current 14 per 10,000?

I can say about the contracts where we are involved. There is absolutely no compromise in ensuring safety. We ensure that the safety aspects are considered right from the beginning, ie, even before the designing process begins. This helps us avoid difficulties during the construction time and proves to be extremely effective in reducing accidents.

There is no denying the fact that the BOT contracts are cutting safety corners. Many of the readers of Infrastructure Today may have travelled to the Western world and have seen the startling difference between the safety features adopted there and those adopted here in India. The funds allocated for the building the roads are no lesser than in any other part of the world but the results are. Ideally, the BOT contract allows the private sector to pursue its goal of realising profits while at the same time guarding the interest of the general public as users of the infrastructure facility; however, the latter part is conveniently overlooked.

Are we using the most effective road designs for our country? What are they? How they are uniquely designed for India?

The requirements of our country are very different in demographics and culture. Some factors that are considered as a basic standard cannot be implemented here straightaway. We have a political system that governs and bends the rules and roads with a short sighted approach rather than get the ideal designs.

This does not mean there are no solutions, but that they are not really being probed. The Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) carries out research and development projects in design, construction and maintenance of roads, traffic and transportation planning and management of roads in different terrains, and suggests improvement of marginal materials, utilisation of industrial waste in road construction, and road traffic safety. However, I am unsure how favourably their suggestions are considered while executing projects.

As we are certified for OHSAS, our company has our own system of Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) ie, the 5×5 Matrix which monitors hazards and ranking on the basis of severity and likelihood and helps identify hazards involved at each project site and to design control measures to prevent accidents caused by these hazards.

We rank the Risk Intensity in three categories—low, medium and high correlating with the product of severity and likelihood.

What business opportunities do you see with the formation of the Board and the Fund?

Road safety is still an unexplored but important field and with increased advocacy and pressure to reduce road crashes, there would be ample business opportunities once the Board and Fund gets operational. There would be road assessment and road safety performance programmes and related areas opening up as opportunities.

This will open up opportunities for road safety industry in the field of engineering measures such as road safety devices as well as for enterprises in the field of education on road safety.

The necessity for investment is clear and should be understood by all stakeholders, either direct from the government in a traditional manner or via my preferred route which is Build Operate Transfer (BOT) or Public Private Partnership (PPP). Due to the nature of BOT and PPP projects they are delivered on time, on budget, provide greater value for money to the taxpayer and to top it all, ensure excellent quality. Penalties could be levied on the consortium during the concession period for the BOT and PPP Projects in the event of a poor safety record which would focus the approach on design, operation and maintenance of the project.

Proper accommodation for pedestrians such as pavements, walkways, underpasses, designated crossings and barriers that would restrict the ability of pedestrians to cross in unsafe and dangerous locations. Separate lanes for 2- and 3-wheelers are also a good idea.

The Experts:

Harish Banwari, GM, Traffic Safety Systems Division, 3M India, which has pioneered the use of retro reflective technology in road safety and traffic management solutions.
Harman S Sidhu, President, Arrivesafe, engaged in communicating road safety issues to policymakers, industries and the public.
M Murali, Director-General, National Highway Builders Federation (NHBF), an apex organisation of contractors and builders of highways and bridges.
Robin Scowcroft, Head—Safety, Essar Projects (India) Limited, an EPC company whose portfolio includes roads.
Dr Rohit Baluja, President, Institute of Road Traffic Education; Director, College of Traffic Management.
RS Minhas, Senior Manager, Transport Operation Planning, Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC).
Sanjay Londhe, COO, Ashoka Buildcon, a large BOT operator in roads.
Vijay Vikram, Joint Commissioner, Enforcement, South Transport Department, Karnataka.

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