Road traffic injuries (RTIs) are the 8th leading cause of death globally in all age groups and the leading cause in the 5–29 year olds. Close to 1·4 million people die each year, and up to 50 million are injured by RTIs. More than half of these deaths are attributable to vulnerable road users (ie, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists).
Road traffic collisions reduce countries’ annual gross domestic product by a range of 1–3%. India fares worst with the highest number of global road fatalities; every four minutes one person dies on Indian roads, denting the Indian economy by nearly US$ 55 billion, equivalent to 1.85% of GDP.
Identifying Road Safety & Risk Issues
Road safety has always been a complex and multifaceted issue. But despite many factors leading to fatal and non-fatal road injuries, the evidence identifies that, in the context of a safe systems approach, four main risk factors consistently increase the risk for road injuries and deaths at a population level and hence acknowledged by the WHO as major risk factors under Safe System Approach. These risk factors are-
. drunk driving,
. helmet use, and
. use of seatbelt or child restraint
Although many other factors contribute to road injuries and deaths (e.g., infrastructure & vehicle safety measures), these four risk factors have a measurable effect on road mortality and morbidity.
According to a study published in The Lancet journal, nearly 30,000 lives in India could have been saved by the implementation of simple road safety measures to address the above four main risk factors.
During the study, the researchers found that in India:
-20,554 lives could have been saved by checking the speed,
-5,683 lives could have been saved by wearing helmets,
– 3204 lives could have been saved with use of seatbelts.
World Economic Forum-led Road Safety 2.0 pilot programs also reveal that over 80% of accidents are due to human errors and a majority can be prevented with the use of technology to compensate for human limitations.
Besides the aforementioned human error, major deficits in road engineering is another reason for accidents. Infrastructure shortfalls such as accident-prone spots, black spots, the sudden appearances of potholes and poor safety measures in the vehicles also contribute to the mortality rate. But the pervasive reason remains driver behaviour.
How to Improve
Having identified the major risk factors of road accidents, the next major question that arises is how to improve the driver’s behaviour.
Studies reveal that behaviour can be changed either by self-motivation or by the fear of penalty through strict enforcement.
For a densely populated country like India with a large population, self-motivating drivers for better driving through incentives & rewards work out to be a better option.
Reward Good Drivers
Our theory of change has been to reward good drivers rather than wasting time, energy, and money on identifying & penalising bad drivers.
The success of World Economic Forum (WEF) led Road Safety 2.0 pilots, demonstrated that this theory is more effective with a drastic reduction in accidents.
As the second decade of “Action for Global Road Safety” kicked off in 2021 with the ambition of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3.6. This goal calls for a 50% reduction in road traffic injuries and deaths by 2030.
Evidence Based Technological Intervention
There is an urgent need for effective implementation of the safe system approach with evidence-based technological interventions to reduce RTIs.
The WEF’s pilot studies posit that by addressing the four main road safety risk factors using next-gen AI led technology, 25-40% of annual road fatalities can be averted. This is largely due to the scalability, transparency and cost effectiveness of technology.
Safe Driving Scores
A driver’s behaviour, although subjective, can be tracked using IoT and converted into scores called Safe Driving Scores.
If these Scores are popularised like CIBIL Scores, they can be monetised to reward, incentivise and give financial benefits to good drivers. Subsequently, fleet or vehicle owners will be encouraged to hire drivers with a higher safety score thereby changing driver behaviour from reckless to safe. It can be a real game changer for road safety in India.
Ecosystem to Reward Safe Driving Scores
There is a need to create an ecosystem to reward these scores.
Few vehicle OEMs, fuel companies, wayside amenities and vehicle spare parts companies have shown keenness to be part of the ecosystem.
Insurance companies who are the main stakeholders were not coming forward due to regulatory restrictions. Now IRDAI has given the needed nod for the change. This will reduce the dependency on third-party funding for road safety and will create a self-sustainable ecosystem.
Good Driving Scores mean better drivers who will strive to get maximum rebates in insurance premiums. Similarly, a good/careful driver will lead to lesser accidents thus lesser pay-out for insurance companies. A win-win for everyone.
Tech Based Automated Enforcement System
However, self-motivating measures to improve driver behaviour cannnot be the only solution. Strict & transparent enforcement of traffic rules are equally essential. Both complement each other.
Due to the dense population of India, the manual enforcement system for detecting traffic violations and penalising violators is practically impossible. The enforcement system needs to be automated, comprising:
-speed cameras, incident detection cameras and ANPR systems,
-IoTs and high-end software for real-time detection of violations and issuance of automated penalty challans with a robust recovery system.
Automated Enforcement System with PPP Model
World Economic Forum did another pilot for the automated enforcement system in the PPP model with amazing results. The problem with an automated system is not the availability of technologies but the availability of the funds. The equipment and software of automated enforcement systems are firstly quite expensive and secondly require skilled manpower for flawless operations. Most Indian cities /municipalities don’t have enough financial resources.
The WEF pilot demonstrated an economically viable and successful PPP model for the installation and operations of the automated enforcement system. The technology companies / OEMs are ready to bear the upfront installation cost of the automated system.
Thereafter manage & operate through their skilled manpower to recover their capital, operation & maintenance cost in a challan from the government. This is not only financially viable but will also bring some additional revenue to cities/municipalities in addition to improving road safety and saving the lives of citizens.
The global community is still far from achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3.6, calling for a 50% reduction in road traffic injuries and deaths by 2030. Reaching this goal will become harder now that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed priorities for governments and presented new competing challenges.
But we are all on the path to achieve it earlier, perhaps. Minister of Road Transport and Highways Mr Nitin Gadkari is quite positive about it and is aiming to reduce 50% fatalities on Indian roads by 2025 itself.