150,000 Road Fatalities: What Needs to Be Done?

150,000 Road Fatalities: What Needs to Be Done?

The 9th India Construction Festival (ICF), hosted by FIRST Construction Council in partnership with CW, brought together top industry heads in Delhi. Panel discussions during the event were a key highlight and from this month onwards, CW will feature one panel discussion in every edition. ...

The 9th India Construction Festival (ICF), hosted by FIRST Construction Council in partnership with CW, brought together top industry heads in Delhi. Panel discussions during the event were a key highlight and from this month onwards, CW will feature one panel discussion in every edition.    Let’s put the first panel discussion, ‘Shaping Regulations for Safe and Sustainable Roads’, in perspective. In 2021, India witnessed over 150,000 road accident-related deaths, earning it the unfortunate distinction of having the highest road traffic mortality rate in the world. The statistics are startling: A traffic accident occurs every 76 seconds in India, leading to the tragic loss of over 17 lives every hour. Approximately 10 per cent of global traffic accidents occur within India's borders. Further, up to 84 per cent of these accidents involve individuals in the working-age group between the ages of 18 and 60, which shatters families and hampers economic productivity.Beyond the immediate concerns of safety, the concept of integrating sustainability into various projects, including road construction and infrastructure development is relatively new and hasn't garnered the attention it deserves, making it imperative to seek ways to build sustainable and safe road infrastructure in India.Accordingly, the discussion delved into the significance of road safety and sustainability to address the dual challenges of reducing accidents on Indian roads and enhancing the overall quality and resilience of the country's road network. It was an opportunity to explore how comprehensive regulations, innovative construction methods and forward-thinking policies can help save lives and ensure long-term sustainability of our transportation infrastructure.Speed thrills, but killsSpeaking at the India Roads Conference, SK Nirmal, Secretary General, India Roads Congress (IRC), addressed critical issues of road safety and capacity development and pointed out that India holds the dubious distinction of having the highest number of road accident fatalities, with 153,000 recorded in 2021. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), alongside the IRC, considers this a top priority.The IRC has played a pivotal role by establishing a dedicated committee for road safety. This committee has developed over two dozen codes, standards and guidelines focussing on safety, some as recent as 2022 and 2023. Notably, these guidelines include instructions for identifying and mitigating black spots on roads, a significant step forward.Discussing remedial measures, Nirmal said, “Engineering measures are crucial in reducing accidents. Measures like traffic curbing, which restrict speed, are essential. Over-speeding is a primary cause of accidents and fatalities, responsible for two-thirds of cases. National and state highways account for only 5 per cent of India’s road network, yet they contribute to over 67 per cent of accidents and fatalities.”Indian roads are a conundrum as high-speed vehicles share the same routes with slower-moving ones, including tractors and trucks, as well as pedestrians. To curb over-speeding, the experts suggested imposition of heavy fines and mandatory rest periods at toll plazas to deter over-speeding. Notably, in Delhi, strict enforcement prevents over-speeding as drivers fear license cancellation.The IRC has also taken steps to enhance capacity development by creating a standardised curriculum and offering a 15-day certification course in collaboration with prestigious institutions such as IITs and NITs. Over 2,000 experts have been trained, emphasising the urgency of the situation.“While the Ministry introduced enforcement measures and increased penalties in a 2019 amendment, India acknowledges that there is much more to be done to improve road safety,” he added.Technology to the rescueAkhilesh Srivastava, Road Safety Ambassador - International Roads Federation, pointed out that while causes of fatalities included bad road quality, black spots, subpar engineering and vehicle safety standards, the greatest contributor – to 72 per cent of accidents – was human behaviour coupled with over-speeding, according to MoRTH data. “The biggest factor that contributes to a road accident is the driver's behaviour,” he said. “That is critical. 2.0 next-generation road safety is where technology can compensate for driver limitations. Every driver knows he should drive at normal speed. If he is drowsy, not alert or over-speeding, we need not tell him; but can we alert him? A study says that if we come to know about the vulnerability 2 seconds earlier, 75 per cent of accidents can be avoided. This is called collision prevention. So, this is how technologies like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and artificial intelligence (AI) can help. The ADAS pilot project in collaboration with the Delhi Transportation Corporation’s (DTC) buses has demonstrated promising results, offering a glimpse of technology-driven reduction in road accidents.” Transparent DPRs,human elementCommenting on some factors behind inadequately designed roads, Ajay Kumar Mishra, President, Dilip Buildcon, said, “Another challenge is the disparity between detailed project reports (DPRs) and tender contracts. While DPRs encompass road geometrics and black spot assessments, contractors often evade responsibility by invoking disclaimers in tenders. Those who prepare DPRs should share accountability for road safety aspects, ensuring better alignment between road design and construction. All involved persons will then do their jobs responsibly. By implementing these changes, India can take a significant step toward enhancing road safety and preventing accidents on its highways.” Elaborating upon the human element, he added, “Drivers to a large extent work for over 12 hours. While pilots of all airlines are compulsorily not allowed to fly after eight hours, this rule does not apply to car and truck drivers.” Lending a unique viewpoint, he said, “In the case of median plantation and vegetation or grass on road dividers, animals such as cattle, goats and dogs often emerge from them onto roads, causing accidents. Adherence to safety standards should be incorporated into road construction,like the recommended 5-feet shrub height.” Construction quality materialEmphasising upon road longevity, Indrabhushan Gokhale, Country Manager, TEREX India, underscored the critical role of aggregate quality, planning and technological integration in road construction. The quality of materials used significantly impacts durability and longevity. Proper planning at the outset, including the selection of materials like granular sub base (GSB) and bituminous concrete (BC), is vital. Matching the machinery to materials is essential to achieve the desired road quality.Further, he underlined that technology plays a pivotal role in monitoring road construction and maintenance. Monitoring systems, as utilised in various industries, help assess the quality of aggregates, reduce fuel wastage and optimise operations. These systems allow for real-time tracking of road construction processes, ensuring quality control and sustainability. “Integrating technology not only enhances road quality but also aids in road safety and accountability by enabling efficient monitoring of contractors and their adherence to construction standards,” he said. “This holistic approach aims to build more durable roads.” For greener roadsIn a forward-looking approach, Dr Satish Pandey, Principal Scientist, Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), suggested that an assessment of the carbon footprint of construction and maintenance activities should be a fundamental consideration in National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) projects. This assessment should be integrated into the tendering stage itself, obliging bidders to provide data on the expected carbon footprint of their proposed construction and maintenance methodologies.Measuring the carbon footprint is made feasible by advanced software, such as the Challenger software developed by the Road Federation. This would encourage the adoption of eco-friendly technologies in road projects. Additionally, NHAI could consider offering financial incentives or special applications based on earned carbon credits. To ensure transparency and accountability, independent audits could validate the claimed carbon credits and their actual achievement, providing a comprehensive framework to promote greener road projects.Design decisionsAs for road design gaps, Nikhil Bagalkotkar, Head of AEC Technical Sales - APAC, Autodesk, said,“Despite remarkable progress in road construction and the IRC contributing valuable guidelines for road design, there remains a gap in adopting modern design technology. It's very common even today to have a large portion of our community still relying on AutoCAD, which is a 2-D platform for designing roads, hindering the incorporation of critical design criteria, especially in alignment with IRC standards.”Also, as average commuting speeds have increased drastically, addressing visibility and design decisions for junctions and flyovers has become even more critical. These aspects play a vital role in preventing accidents, given the limited time for split-second decisions at high speeds.“We're trying very hard to move the entire community away from the 2-D aspect to embracing building information modelling (BIM) as BIM can make a huge difference in terms of saving lives. If that gets mandated, I think it will make a huge difference.”At the event, experts and policymakers shared insights, experiences and best practices in developing effective policies to prioritise road safety. Having highlighted the problem, they also suggested solutions ranging from policy intervention to the role of technologies in preventing mishaps. What’s more, the panel discussion gave the audience an insight into the various facets of road infrastructure development and management.

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