Road accidents are an outcome of the interplay of various factors, some of which are the length of road network, vehicle population, human population and adherence/enforcement of road safety regulations etc. Road accident causes injuries, fatalities, disabilities and hospitalization with severe socio economic costs across the country. Consequently, road safety has become an issue of concern at state, national and international level. Road accidents in India kill more people than some epidemics, but the Central and the State governments refuse to see it for what it is — a national crisis. The antiquated traffic management and transportation system resulted in 1, 50,000 deaths and left more than half a million injured in the year 2015, affirming the country’s status as among the riskiest in the world for road users. In Jammu and Kashmir, road accidents are claiming more lives than the armed-related violence. 14,407 civilians were killed in 77,786 road accidents in the 13 years from 2004 to June 2017, which also injured 1,07,622 people as per records from the J&K Traffic Police and the central Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). In 2015, as per the figures compiled by the Traffic Police, 917 persons lost their lives in 8,142 road accidents which were reported from various parts of the state. If we have a look on figures during the year 2016, as per the report compiled by the Traffic Department, indicating the data for the first three quarters of the year 2016, 4,132 road accidents were reported from the Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions, in which 665 persons lost their lives. Of these, 3,621 were non-fatal accidents, while 511 were fatal. Nearly 6,000 were also injured in the accidents. What is astonishing is that Jammu district registered the highest number of 113 road accident-related deaths. Besides 946 persons were injured in 1,103 road accidents in the district during the period. Of them, 112 were fatal. The second highest number of accident-related deaths were reported from Ramban district of the Jammu division, where 66 persons were killed in 192 road incidents. In the summer capital Srinagar, 38 persons were killed on roads, where a total of 255 road accidents were reported during the first three quarters of the year 2016 from the capital, in which 35 were accidents were fatal and 216 non-fatal. A total of 254 persons also sustained injuries in these road accidents, the report reveals. The lowest number of road deaths and accidents were reported from Shopian district in south Kashmir during the period, where one person lost his life and 49 were injured in 36 road accidents. As per the official figures, Leh district of the Ladakh region reported 68 road accidents. Of them, 26 proved fatal and in which 38 persons were killed, besides 123 were injured. Kargil district reported 46 road accidents in which 31 persons lost their lives while 72 sustained injuries, the report compiled by the Traffic Police reveals. Jammu and Kashmir topped the list of “high accidental death-prone areas” in a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) survey conducted in 2013, which found that an accident in Jammu And Kashmir State has a 64 percent chance of causing death as opposed to 36.4 percent for all of India. Also the number of vehicles on the roads has doubled from over 7 lakh in 2010 to over 14 lakh (14, 881,90) in March 2017, as per the J&K Transport Commissioner’s office, foregrounding the need for better public transport. Data also show that more than half of those killed in the year 2015 were in the productive age group of 15 to 34, pointing to a calamitous loss of young lives. This is a public health emergency that requires immediate action. As a state, we are slowly waking up to the fact that we lead in road crash deaths and injuries. Unfortunately, we are at a primitive stage of resolving this issue. We are still trying to understand that every road death is preventable, and that there are solutions which have been tried, tested and found to be successful in outside countries. To defeat this growing menace of road traffic accidents, there is an immediate need to take some determined action today. When an accident occurs, the document which is relied upon to ascertain the cause is the FIR, which is prepared by the police. Due to lack of proper training, the police are unable to capture the various human, infrastructural, and vehicular factors that play a vital role in each accident. So it is left to the police to use their discretion, which in the present scenario always results in all the blame being heaped on the driver. This is the easiest route available to them, as proving wilful culpability of a road contractor or an engineer under the existing law is very difficult.
RECOMMENDATIONS: (i) Raise Awareness about Road Safety Issues: Under Jammu & Kashmir State Road Safety Policy, the Government should increase its efforts to promote awareness about the various aspects of road safety, the social and economic implications of road accidents and what needs to be done to curb the rising menace of road accidents. This would enable and empower the different stakeholders to play a meaningful role in promoting road safety.
(ii) Establish a Road Safety Information Database: The Government should provide assistance to local bodies and state to improve the quality of crash investigation and of data collection, transmission and analysis. A State Level Road Safety Information System should be established for providing continuity and policy guidelines to this activity.
(iii) Ensure Safer Road Infrastructure: The Government should take measures to review standards pertaining to safety in the design of rural and urban roads and bring them in consonance with international best practices keeping in view Indian traffic conditions.
(iv) Safer Vehicles: The Government should take steps to ensure that safety features are built in at the stage of design, manufacture, usage, operation and maintenance of both motorized and non-motorized vehicles in order to minimize adverse safety and environmental effects of vehicle operation on road users (including pedestrians and bicyclists) and infrastructure.
(v) Safer Drivers: The Government should strengthen the system of driver licensing and training to improve the competence and capability of drivers.
(vi) Safety of Vulnerable Road Users: The design and construction of all road facilities (rural and urban) should take into account the needs of non-motorized transport and the vulnerable and physically challenged in an appropriate manner. The Government should seek to disseminate best practices in this regard to town planners, architects, and highway and traffic engineers.
(vii) Road Traffic Safety Education and Training: Road safety knowledge and awareness should be created amongst the population through education, training and publicity campaigns. Road safety education should also focus on school children and college going students, while road safety publicity campaigns should be used to propagate good road safety practices among the community. The Government should encourage all professionals associated with road design, road construction, road network management, traffic management and law enforcement to attain adequate knowledge of road safety issues.
(viii) Enforcement of Safety Laws: The Government should take appropriate measures to strengthen and improve the quality of enforcement in order to ensure effective and uniform implementation of safety laws.
(ix) Emergency Medical Services for Road Accidents: The Government should strive to ensure that all persons involved in road accidents benefit from speedy and effective trauma care and management. The essential functions of such a service should include the provision of rescue operation and administration of first aid at the site of an accident and the transport of the victim from accident site to nearby hospital. Hospitals alongside the National Highway and State Highways should be adequately equipped to provide for trauma care and rehabilitation.
(x) Research for Road Safety: The Government should encourage increased activity in programmes of road safety research by identifying priority areas, funding research in those areas adequately and establishing centers of excellence in research and academic institutions. The Government should facilitate dissemination of the result of research and identified examples of good practices through publication, training, conferences, workshops and websites.
(xi) Strengthening Enabling Legal, Institutional and Financial Environment for Road Safety: The Government should take appropriate measures to ensure that the required legal, institutional and financial environment for road safety is further strengthened and a mechanism for effective coordination of various stakeholders is put in place. The reforms in these areas should provide for the active and extensive participation of the community at large, of the private sector, academia and NGOs. (The author is Doctor at Acharya Shri Chander College of Medical Sciences and Hospital, Sidhra Jammu and an Activist/Educator at Unacademy, India’s largest online education platform.)