As the Covid-19 fatalities go down in India (hopefully permanently), those on the roads are climbing up after a lull following the lockdowns. And these are by no means insubstantial – they rival the Covid numbers. While people plunge off the roads in the hills, speeding takes a heavy toll in the plains. The deaths keep on rising every year and the new sites of the accidents are increasingly the new expressways, where the high speeds do not allow for any margin of error. As the car and two-wheeler ownership goes up in India, the situation only promises to get worse.
Making things even worse is the fact that, while enforcement of anti-pandemic rules has been strict, such as on wearing masks, police have almost entirely stopped bothering about implementing road safety regulations. A large number of people can be seen driving two-wheelers without helmets, there is underage driving, having more than the stipulated passengers in all vehicles from scooters to buses, and numerous other violations. The police seem to have given up on this, further exacerbating a situation that is already bad in the country. This is tragic because it is preventable through enforcement and awareness of the hazards.
Having seen during the Covid crisis what concerted action on the part of government and the people can do, the same determination should be directed at this chronic problem. Not only do people die and get injured in accidents, the economic loss caused to families and society is tremendous. The statistics on this get worse every year. The nature of the problem is changing – earlier it was considerably due to poor infrastructure, now it is the inability to cope with changed circumstances. The temptation to drive fast on expressways is great. Sadly, even ongoing maintenance and repair jobs exact a toll due to negligence. There has to be greater sophistication in the ways of handling traffic, as also increased investment in manpower and technology. Road fatalities were always an unacceptable loss to bear; they will be even more so in the future. Hopefully, the necessary action will be taken in mission mode.