Saving Lives on the Road!

Mission for 2015: Saving lives, reducing accidents & improving traffic flow?

Aranmula, October 2014
As 2014, the Year of the Horse concludes, Kerala's Department of Motor Vehicles, is preparing for the safety challenges emerging from faster and more  powerful forms  of transportation. Says, Transport Commissioner, Sreelekha IPS, "road accidents are the single biggest cause of death among young drivers." "This is why I believe, 2015 should be the year when Kerala makes a concerted push to educate and also enforce greater traffic discipline and safety."

Transportation is the life blood of Kerala:
Safety apart, transportation is the circulatory system of the body politic in Kerala. The people and institutions of Kerala, expect  this vital component of Kerala's economy to work smoothly and safely. Transportation of goods, workers, materials, even the movement of pilgrim visitors to Kerala's sacred spaces directly impacts the economy and our common prosperity.

Stopping the blood shed in Kerala despite a steep growth in the vehicular population:
In densely populated Kerala, the challenges are  unique. The meteoric growth of Kerala's vehicle population and proposed national legislation with more stringent rules and enforcement mandated all lead up to the pressing need to reduce fatalities.

Fatalities are unacceptably high even though vehicular population growth has far outpaced deaths. From 2000-01, Kerala's annual vehicular registrations grew progressively from 20.9 lakh to 73.8 lakh vehicles in 2012-13  (a stunning 350 percent increase in annual registrations in just 11 years). Of these registrations in 2012-13, some 47.8 lakh registrations (or 64.7% of the annual total) were for two wheelers.

Between 2004 and 2013  there were a total 38,000 deaths in this ten year period from road accidents in Kerala. The ten year average of 3,800 annual fatalities is calculated based on a gradual increase in most of the years between . In 2004 for example there were only 3,059 fatalities. Newer, safer technologies have reduced deaths, as has recent stringent policing.

In the last two years this deadly toll has risen once again to an annual average of 4,272 traffic deaths despite a drop in the number of accidents overall. This works out to an average of 11.7 people dying on the roads every day between 2011 and 2013. Around 9.5 times as many were injured. In 2013 However there was an actual drop, with 4,258 deaths and 40, 346 injuries. Down from an all time high of 4,286 deaths in 2012. That is approximately 3 percent of the national estimate of 140,000 recorded fatalities annually.

Nationally the number of vehicle fatalities is much worse:
In proportion to the population, India has 18.9 accident fatalities per 100,000 people. In densely populated, but more regulated Kerala, the number of fatalities per lakh is around 12.56, or 33 percent lower. This is still much more than high income countries with far larger vehicle populations. In these wealthy, better regulated nations, the mortality average is just 8.7 per 100,000 population.

As in Kerala, a key concern is that accidents in India are getting deadlier with an estimated 140,000 Indians dying on the road in 2013. In 2002 for every 100 accidents nationally, 20.8 people died in India That number has risen steadily each year. In 2011, 28.6 people out of every 100 accidents, (or 37.5 percent more than in 2002, died).

India leads the world in fatalities:
India is said to account for over 10 percent of worldwide accident fatalities despite the likelihood that some fatalities in rural or tribal areas go unreported. According to the World Health Organization, India has the most accident fatalities worldwide in absolute terms.

The statistics on Indian fatalities look a little better if you consider the growth in the road network and the vehicle population. Between 2002 and 2011 the road network grew annually at a compounded rate of 3.4 percent while the vehicle population grew annually at a compounded rate of 9.9 percent. So fatalities in relation to road growth and vehicular numbers have actually gone down. This is attributed to better policing and safer, newer cars.

An estimated 90 percent of an estimated 1.3 million traffic fatalities worldwide happen in developing nations where education on traffic safety is minimal or non existent in schools.

The developed nations only need contend with the remaining 10 percent of global fatalities. This despite the fact that they drive at higher speeds and account for more than half the world's vehicles. In most or all of these nations driver education is available in schools so young people are sensitized to the behavioral determinants of safety such as wearing helmets, driving under the influence and seatbelt usage, well before they get behind the wheel.

Education is particularly successful in the developed world because planners recognize that most accidents happen to younger and more vulnerable people. Half of traffic fatalities involve vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, as well as scooter and motor cycle riders.

Safety needs public education:, an online portal dedicated to public education for traffic safety in Kerala can also explain more aggressive policing in 2015

There are many social and economic compulsions for Kerala to improve traffic safety in 2015. The state's high literacy rates, openness to socially progressive policies will help.

At  the same time ramping up aggressive policing even further can be politically sensitive. Hence there is a strong case for communicating better with the media and the public through a web portal such as which is devoted to traffic safety in Kerala communities and is tasked with working closely with the media and with schools (both public and private).

Leadership in education from Bhavan's Vidya Mandir, Pathanamthitta:
A pilot project has been initiated between the Motor Vehicle Department and eight standard students at the Bhavan's Vidya Mandir School in Pathanamthitta.  Administrator Mr. P. M. Hamza, Principal Annie Mathen and teachers Sujata Varghese and Monisha M, at the school  been supportive. Students and teachers will be offered incentives to partici

Kerala with its more literate and media sensitized population can lead the way:
India can lead the world in many ways, but having the most fatalities from traffic need not be one of them. Kerala's space professionals helped put a spacecraft into Martian orbit this year.

The state is already making strides in the drive to save lives. There is no reason why this progressive and educated state led by it's committed Transportation Officials cannot show the rest of India how to improve the situation visibly in 2015. Together, we can save lives by engaging drivers through the media in Kerala and by working through a growing number of schools.

Written by Pravin J P Arapurakal when he was doing some pro bono consulting for the Traffic Commissioner of Kerala


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