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Why are India's roads so deadly?

One person is killed in a road accident nearly every three and a half minutes in India, according to official data

One person is killed in a road accident nearly every three and a half minutes in India, according to official data

One person is killed in a road accident nearly every three and a half minutes in India. On average, the country witnesses 1,264 road accidents and 462 deaths every day — that is 53 crashes and 19 deaths every hour, according to India's latest Road Accidents report. In total, 168,491 people were killed and 443,366 injured in 461,312 road crashes last year.

"It is indeed a matter of great concern that despite the continuous efforts of the government in this regard and our commitments for halving fatalities, we have not been able to register significant progress on this front," said Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari when releasing the report in October.

Last year saw an increase of nearly 12% in the number of road crashes and an increase of 9.4% in the number of fatalities compared to the previous year. Over half of all road fatalities took place on national and state highways – though they make up less than 5% of India's total road network.

With only 1% of the world's vehicles, India accounts for almost 10% of all crash-related deaths, according to a World Bank study.

Road crashes are estimated to cost the Indian economy 5-7% of its GDP a year.

"The time has now come for states across India, especially those registering the highest number of crashes, fatalities, and injuries to develop and implement road safety action plans that convey their seriousness to tackle the issue," Piyush Tewari of the SaveLIFE Foundation (SLF), a road-safety focused non-profit organization operating in over 10 Indian states, told DW.

The southern state of Tamil Nadu accounted for the highest number of crashes last year with 64,105. It was followed by the central state of Madhya Pradesh with 54,432 and Kerala at 43,910, according to the report.

What's behind India's road accidents?

Speeding accounted for over 72% of India's total road accidents. Driving on the wrong side was the second highest cause, followed by drunk driving and use of mobile phones while behind the wheel.

"A vast number of crashes are a result of human errors which calls for immediate redressal of the loopholes in our enforcement system," Deepanshu Gupta, co-founder of the Indian Road Safety Campaign, told DW. "Also, the crashes on state and national highways must be scientifically investigated…on an immediate basis," Gupta added.

After his cousin died in a road crash, Tewari founded SLF in 2008 with the aim of improving road safety emergency care.

Tewari says each state must first appoint a high-ranking officer to convene all concerned agencies. Road engineering issues, enforcement and behavior change and trauma care must also be addressed, he said.

"Each district chief must submit a quarterly report on action taken in each of these areas. It is only then that we will see change on the ground in terms of lives saved," Tewari noted.

Furthermore, people between the ages of 18 and 45 accounted for two out of three vehicle accident victims in 2022, a trend similar to 2021.

In addition to the emotional and psychological impact on the family, such a high share of young victims has major socio-economic implications, the report noted.

India falls short of meeting road safety goals

New Delhi is a signatory of the Stockholm Declaration of 2020 which aims to reduce road traffic deaths by half by 2030. At the 27th World Road Congress held last month in Prague, India reiterated the same commitment.

However, the latest road and transport report indicates that these goals are still a distant dream.

"As of now, we are far behind the target. Unfortunately, instead of seeing a decrease in road crashes and deaths, there was an upward trend last year," said Gupta of the Indian Road Safety Campaign. "Unless there is a drastic change in the enforcement policies, the 2030 goal remain far-fetched."

Last year, the World Bank approved the financing of $250 million (€233 million) to support the Indian government's program for strengthening road safety. The initiative aims to help states reduce road crash fatalities through improved road safety management and institutional reform. Aid was also set aside to strengthen emergency medical and rehabilitation services for post-crash care.

However, in view of "the rising number of road crashes and fatalities… trauma care for victims needs to be significantly strengthened," Tewari of the SLF said.

Edited by: Sou-Jie van Brunnersum