Opinion: Cars are getting safer, but are drivers?

    Regulations have made our cars safer, but road infrastructure and driver awareness needs to catch up.

    Published on Jan 02, 2024 09:00:00 AM


    Road safety and driver awareness

    Last year, 1,55,781 people lost their lives on our roads. That’s like three A320 domestic aircraft crashing every day. Let that sink in. 

    That annual road fatalities now make the headlines is an important first step. But are we doing enough to reduce the toll? Are we looking at road safety in a holistic enough manner? Sure, cars in India are getting safer due to greater crash testing, and car buyers today are selecting cars with good safety scores, but safer cars are only part of the solution. What we need to create are safer roads, safer driving conditions and safer drivers. 

    Must say the 2022 report on road accidents in India provides some interesting insights. It, for example, tells us that 4,446 Indians lost their lives because of potholes. That’s just abysmal. Even worse, 9,211 people were killed due to ‘road work’ or construction. Surely the big corporations responsible for roadworks can spend more on making safer passages and better-quality barriers. Other statistics that stand out? 20 percent of fatalities were pedestrians and 45 percent of the total were on two-wheelers. 

    The biggie, however, is this; 1,19,904 people lost their lives due to ‘over speeding’. Now yes, speeding, in general, is clearly the root cause of many fatal accidents. And reining in unbridled speed is vital. But to legislate better and allow regulations to be more effective, we need better data. Stuff like how much over the limit the offenders were, what the actual speed was when the accident took place, and what other factors were involved in causing the crash. Speed, in isolation, is often not the only factor, and as the National Transportation Safety Board in the US often explains, accidents more often than not happen due to a number of factors. 

    Getting more accurate data on accidents isn’t a problem we in India face alone; it’s a global problem. Reading skid marks accurately is getting more and more difficult with anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control systems, and the same can be said of smart or semi-active seat belts. There are, however, several options open to engineers and crash investigators today. Some include aircraft-like black boxes or electronic data recorders (EDR) that save key data for short periods of time. Our cars already produce loads and loads of data like speed, braking and acceleration, and have the requisite hardware. And then we could also get data off our cell phones and their gyros. What’s another app? 

    Speed apart, what we also need to do urgently is incorporate highway driving as part of our licensing process. We also need to set realistic speed limits that don’t skew data, and then enforcement for speeding also needs to be stepped up. Also, where, for example, are the Stop signs you see all over the world at intersections? The red octagons with the word STOP written in white letters? They are part of the Vienna Convention on road signs and signals; but how many have you seen here? Do we even have to stop at intersections?

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