The Law Alone Cannot Make Our Roads Safe
As India fights against its familiar evils and awakens to new challenges every day, our discussions have always evolved to keep up with the problems facing the nation. We have for decades deliberated on issues such as poverty, unemployment, and women empowerment, and more recently our discussions have shifted towards freedom of speech and intolerance, among other things.
In our country, Social Activism has the reputation of challenging status quos and bringing about the needed change; this is substantiated by the famous IAC movement led by Anna Hazare or the nationwide protests against sexual assault after the Delhi gang rape incident, which eventually led to the passage of The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013. And discussions are an indispensable part of Social Activism.
Even as we comprehend the cruciality of such discussions, one might wonder about the factors that define what we choose to discuss in the scope of social development of the nation. Do we discuss issues with high perceptible impact? Do we discuss issues that stimulate our emotions? Or do we talk about problems that violate or challenge our belief systems?
It is a well-known fact that nearly 1.4 lakh people are killed on our roads every year, while an inexcusable number of people are left disabled with long-term injuries with each passing hour.
The sheer magnitude of the problem undoubtedly qualifies it to assume prominence in our discussions, yet it fails to even make it to our thoughts for most of us. Though the understanding of Road Safety has evolved through the years, it largely remains a sectoral issue, attracting limited to high interest from very few sectors—NGOs, Academia, Healthcare, Industry, Government—with each one acting individually to accomplish their agenda of Road Safety.
It is still not a people’s problem—the one that is owned by the general masses. And radical change is hard to achieve unless the menace of Road Accidents transforms to become a people’s problem.
It is interesting to note that the problem of Road Accidents, despite being a popular issue affecting many of us personally, suffers from an insurmountable amount of public acceptance and inaction, killing any opportunity for change. A large part of the problem lies in the way we perceive safety.
Our lack of safety culture—fostered by a lack of safety education-- not only forces us to ignorantly overlook the dangers of living in an unsafe environment, but also hinders any developmental discussion on safety. We often see safety as a personal liability rather than as a function of a system that comprises an individual and his surroundings.
Adding to such public ignorance are issues like unscientific road accident data recording and analysis. The data from Ministry of Road Transport & Highways attributes nearly 85% of total accidents to fault of driver; data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) paints a similar picture, reducing Road Accidents to merely a problem of driver-behavior while largely ignoring other important components—vehicle design, road design, infrastructure etc.
This is reflective of how the society looks at Road Accidents—as a deep-rooted, inevitable, behaviour problem, on which they can exercise little or no control. There is a need to evolve our thinking to surpass this inertia of thought and redefine Road Accidents as a multi-pronged problem demanding revamping from all departments ranging from government and civic bodies to health-care to vehicle manufacturers. The demand for Road Safety can’t be created unless steps are taken to revolutionize the thinking of the public to recognize Road Accidents as a problem that needs public intervention.
Academic institutions are often a breeding ground for progressive discussions, and it is young people who will define the voice of public in the coming years. Efforts placed in exposing youth to the magnitude and intricacy of the problem of Road Accidents will create a much-needed public demand.
While raising awareness is an approach that is embraced by many, engagement, through which youth can build their own understanding of road safety, can be a potential game-changer. Although policy changes and enforcement at top level are utterly necessary and the need of the hour to immediately prevent the mindless loss of lives, grassroots-level change is what will bring about a radical behavioral shift, changing public’s understanding of road safety and creating a public demand; such demand is essential to sustain enforcement by ensuring implementation.
It is only through such efforts that we can pave a path for road safety improvement for years to come.