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Road accident deaths: Who leads the nation?

Traffic in Bengaluru.

Delhi is still leading Indian cities in the number of road accident deaths, recording 106 more such fatalities in 2018 compared to 2017. Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, leads the states.

Fortunately, the same was not true of some other populous cities. Chennai, Kolkata, and Maharashtra all witnessed declines in their road accident deaths in 2018 compared to 2017: 1,260 fatalities took place in 2018 in Chennai, compared to 1,299 in 2017. In Mumbai, 475 road accident deaths were recorded in 2018 compared to 490 the year before. Kolkata, meanwhile, witnessed 294 road accident deaths in 2018 compared to 327 in 2017. 

Nonetheless, the high rate of fatalities in road traffic accidents continues to be a major public health concern. Globally, road injuries accounted for the eighth highest number of deaths in 2016 according to the World Health Organization (WHO) – more than diarrhoeal diseases and tuberculosis. India shoulders a disproportionate burden of these deaths, accounting for two percent of the world’s vehicles but eleven percent of its road accident deaths.

In India, 1.51 lakh people lost their lives in road traffic accidents in 2016 – more than in any other country. road accident deaths occurred at a rate of 400 a day, with almost 23 percent of trauma care delivered in India being connected to transportation. Even for those who survive, outcomes can be dismal: one quarter of road traffic accident survivors in India are left permanently disabled. 

“Road safety is an issue that does not receive anywhere near the attention it deserves,” commented WHO ambassador for noncommunicable diseases Michael Bloomberg. He described enhancing road safety as being “really…one of our great opportunities to save lives around the world.” 

In Delhi, the increase in road accident deaths occurred despite accidents themselves falling. In 2017, 1,584 people died in road traffic accidents. By 2018, this figure had increased to 1,690 – a 6.69 percent uptick – despite accidents themselves falling by 2.36 percent between the two years. The increase in fatalities due to traffic accidents marked a shift from the decrease in such deaths the national capital had been witnessing since 2009. 

Such a trend of increased fatalities despite fewer incidents is observable at the national level. In 2018, almost 1.49 lakh road accident deaths were observed in India compared to 1.48 lakh in 2017. This came despite 4.61 lakh road traffic accidents being observed in 2018 – fewer than the 4.65 lakh witnessed in 2017. 

“Some believe that increased congestion on roads may have reduced the number of fatalities,” observed former International Road Federation K. K. Kapila, “but it’s not true.” 

Of states, Uttar Pradesh witnessed the most fatalities in 2018 whilst Haryana witnessed the most fatalities per lakh population. Tamil Nadu saw the greatest reduction in the number of deaths (followed by Andhra Pradesh). Earlier this year, the state government in Tamil Nadu announced it would expand emergency care infrastructure in a bid to effect further reductions in the death toll due to traffic accidents. 

At the national level, the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill received parliamentary approval in July earlier this year with the goal of improving road safety infrastructure, increasing penalties for traffic violators, and engaging the states in formulating policies surrounding road safety. The law also includes provisions for incorporating technology into enforcing road safety legislation and finding the causes of accidents – something Kapila sees as a potential boon, stating “we need to carry out detailed investigation to zero in on the exact cause of fatal accidents.” 

“The states need to learn from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh,” said expert Rohit Baluja. “Road fatalities are increasing as we don’t study the pathology of road accidents to take corrective measures.”

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