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Public Health

Road accidents killed more people than Covid19 in India

Something in India kills one person every 4 minutes.

If you think it is Covid19 or some infectious disease you are wrong, this is more lethal and dangerous than cancer. It is not even the usual suspects like Diabetes…then what is it?

It is road accidents? Surprised? You should not be …

Last month a team member had to take some time off to see to the last rites of a relative who had died in a collision. Incidentally the death of the family member led to other unintended consequences for the family. Just the next day I got news of a bunch of medicos who had died on the way to Goa after a school reunion.

According to reports from Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, the numbers are very concerning. India has lost 80,000 people this year to road fatalities. That is almost 13% of all deaths due to road accidents globally. This is despite the fact that India has only 1% of registered vehicles globally. So while this is a worry there is little by way of data that can help us understand the reasons for these numbers.

Let’s look at this phenomenon globally.

Road traffic continues to be a major developmental issue, a public health concern and is a leading cause of death and injury across the World killing more than 1.35 million globally as reported in the Global Status report on Road Safety 2018 with 90% of these casualties taking place in the developing countries. These are the leading causes of death for children aged 4-14 and for young adults below the age of 29 years.

54% of those killed are pedestrians, cyclists and motor cycle drivers.

Road accidents in India kill almost 1.5 lakh people annually. Accordingly, India accounts for almost 11% of the accident related deaths in the World.

As per the consortium of Delhi IIT & DMITS, commissioned by MORTH to estimate the socio-economic costs of road accidents, the total estimated socio economic cost of road accidents reported by India in 2018 was Rs 1,47,114 crores which was equivalent to 0.77% of the nation’s GDP.

What is more concerning being that there is no change in the number of accidents or the deaths and injuries due to those accidents over the last 5 years? Incidentally the only casualty of the farmer protests so far in the country was an individual who lost control of his tractor and succumbed to his injuries, which will put down the cause of his death to road accident. The below table tells the rest of the story.

Number of accidents and subsequent deaths from 2015-2019 in India

Interestingly national and state highways which account for a mere 5% of the roads account for almost 50% of the accidents and subsequent fatalities. The highways are the preferred mode of transport for both passengers and freight in the country.

I think it would make sense for everyone to download this report and read it. It has a more direct impact than the toolkit that has been in news for all the wrong reasons.

So is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Well these seems to be some interesting statistics from Tamil Nadu that might be helpful. The state accounts for the highest number of road accidents. In 2019 there were 57,228 odd accidents in the state that accounted for almost 12.7% of the accidents in the entire country. While the absolute number is high, what it hides is a 10% decrease over 2018 numbers. While it tops in the number of accidents, the deaths due to accidents is lower at 10,525 (Nationally in 5th place) which also marks a 13.8% decrease in the number of deaths over 2018. I have taken the number purposely for 2019 as 2020 road traffic numbers are far lower due to the pandemic.

All this data is available for public consumption on this site.

So what has Tamilnadu done that can be followed as a framework across other states? Well for starters it has taken these key steps

  • Analysis of exact reasons for the accidents, crunching this data to ensure that root cause identification is done and those recurring causes are eliminated
  • Ensuring that ambulance is available and reaches the crash site within 13 minutes, reducing the loss of life
  • Analyzing crash sites and making changes in the road structure and barricade protection to reduce recurrence of accidents
  • Availability of medical personnel near to chronic crash sites
  • Educating drivers on public safety
  • Enforcing safety drives by the police
  • Last but not the least smooth coordination between the various agencies – Police, Hospitals, National High Authority and Ministry of Roads and Surface Transport among others

While this looks like a good model to start with, I believe these is a lot more that needs to be done. I would continue the above but add the following to the list

  • Encourage safe driving lessons at all schools, especially for classes 11 and 12. This should be ideally continued to the first year to college, where most drivers would get their first license
  • Continue to work with OEMs and Auto Manufacturers to ensure safety norms, protocols and education is continued when a buyer walks into the dealership to buy a vehicle
  • Constant education to pedestrians, cyclists and motor cycle and 2 wheel riders, as these are the sections most affected by road accidents these are the categories that we should speak to more and make them aware of the dangers of road
  • Encourage train travel, it is beyond doubt that the trains have a much better safety record than the roads and we should encourage more people to pick up trains to mode of passenger transport, reducing the chances of accidents by road
  • Collect data and act on it locally, I think we seem to be more interested in national issues but we need to act locally to help build up the numbers nationally

The loss to family, society and country through road accidents is immense. From a healthcare perspective, these accidents add to the burden of a healthcare system that is bursting at the seams. A death every 4 minutes that is avoidable is something the system can ill afford.

So drive safe and stay heathy…..