When roads wreak devastation

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In Kerala, less than 10% of the road network handles 80% of the traffic and it takes a heavy toll on both motorists and pedestrians. The figures for 2018 speak of the gravity of the situation: 4,259 deaths, 31,687 grievous injuries, 13,456 injuries in 40,260 accidents

Last year’s mid-August deluge is universally acknowledged as the worst-ever disaster in the State’s history. But, few seem to see the devastation of a different kind: the lives lost on Kerala’s roads. Every single day, Kerala loses as many as 12 lives and another 150 get injured in 106 road accidents.

In 2018, Kerala’s roads saw 4,259 deaths, 31,687 grievous injuries,and 13,456 simple injuries in 40,260 accidents. With 4,259 fatalities during January-December last year Kerala was in ninth position among selected countries around the world. India tops the table with 1.45 lakh deaths, followed by China, Brazil, the U.S, Tamil Nadu, South Africa, Afghanistan and Japan. Germany, France, Italy, United Kingdom and Australia are behind.

The State, with an area of 38, 863 sq km, has a road network of 2,29,349.21 km in 2017-18. The road density of the State is 590.14 km per 100 sq km, compared to the national average of 387 km per 100 sq km. The length of roads per one lakh population is 686.55 km and almost 90% of the road network is single lane.

There are 11 National Highways, with an NH length of 1,781.50 km, which accounts for 40% of the road traffic. The 7,197 km of secondary road network of State Highways and Main District Roads accounts for another 40% of the road traffic. Thus, less than 10% of the road network handles 80% of the traffic.

Kerala has 120.42 lakh registered motor vehicles as on March 2018 and the number per 1,000 population is 361. According to world development indicators of 2015, the number of vehicles per 1,000 population in India is 18. It is 47 in China and 507 in the U.S.

8% growth

The growth of vehicle population in the State is 8% over the previous year. Urbanisation, overdependence on personal motor vehicles for speedy mobility and mismatch between the growth in motor vehicles and the capacity augmentation of roads have resulted in traffic congestion and increasing road accidents.

About 82% of the 4,259 deaths due to road accidents in 2018 involve motorcyclists (2,178 deaths, 53%) and pedestrians (1,200 deaths, 29 %). Car occupants account for 7% (289 deaths), autorickshaw drivers and passengers 4.5% (188 deaths) and heavy vehicles 3% (134 deaths).

Ernakulam district has topped the districts with 5,976 accidents, followed by Thiruvananthapuram with 5,608 accidents and Thrissur with 4,444 accidents. In fatalities, Thiruvananthapuram is on top with 496 deaths, Ernakulam in second place with 440 deaths, followed by Kollam (435) and Thrissur (422). Most of the victims fall in the productive age group of 18 to 40 years.

In 2017, the fatalities were 3,996, grievously injured 29,783 and injured 12,902 in 38,481 road accidents. Road accident is considered to be the third major cause of deaths in the State. Heart ailments and cancer take a similar heavy toll.

Analysis shows that rash and negligent driving is the main cause of accidents. “As much as 80% of the 2,178 deaths of motorcyclists are due to head injuries sustained in crashes. Pillion riders risk their lives by not using helmets. Three-dimensional designed roads with all furniture as in developed countries can ensure safety of all road users, especially the pedestrian,’’ says Rajeev Puthalath, Joint Transport Commissioner and Secretary, State Transport Authority.

Unhealthy competition

By and large, speeding and unhealthy competition of vehicles, poor road conditions, uncontrolled access to streets and unmanned junctions, bad driving habits, lack of discipline, haphazard roadside parking, absence of proper bus bays and shelters, visual acuity of drivers, encroachments and dumping of materials on road corridors result in road accidents.

Chief Scientist, National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC), an autonomous institution under the government, B. G. Sreedevi advocates a 12-point charter on road safety that includes emergency medical care, legislation and enforcement of traffic laws, safe road infrastructure and parking policy. “These urgent needs for road safety should be reviewed and should be supplemented after the gap analysis,” she adds.The Kerala Road Safety Authority, KRSA, is to take up black spot identification, prioritisation and rectifications as per MORTH (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways) protocol. “It will be a regular exercise from this year and a nodal officer in the KRSA has been identified to coordinate with other stakeholders. NATPAC will be engaged as a professional consultants”, says Executive Director, KRSA, T. Elangovan.

By focusing on vulnerable motorcyclists and pedestrians, Mr. Elangovan says, risk of accidents and severity can be reduced by 50% and the majority of road safety issues can be sorted out.

The Motor Vehicles Department is fine-tuning the Safe Zone project for round-the-clock real-time monitoring of roads to bring down the number of road accidents and fatalities, adds Mr. Puthalath.

But, Kerala’s chances to achieve the target set in the Road Safety Vision to reduce road accidents and fatalities by 50% in 2020 are remote with the present pace of measures and enforcement.

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