The United Nations is observing global road safety week from May 6 to 12. The UN’s ongoing campaign: Save Lives # Speak Up campaign provides an opportunity for civil society to generate demand for a strong leadership for road safety and evidence based intervention which could save many lives.
More than a million people die worldwide every year on the roads and 20 to 50 million people suffer from road traffic injuries. This situation is quite serious in our country. Almost 5,00,000 accidents are happening in India resulting in the deaths of about 1,50,000 people.
One fourth of them who survive are becoming permanently disabled and only one fourth of them are achieving their pre injury status in spite of the best treatment available in our country.
Road traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among young people aged 25 to 29 years. Our country is economically losing the worth of one to three per cent of the GDP.
Almost 90 per cent of these fatalities worldwide occur in low income and middle income countries even though these countries are having only approximately half of the vehicles of world. In a research conducted by the author, 90 per cent of these accidents occurred due to the driver’s negligence.
The main causes of accident in India are over taking, over speeding, drunken driving and recently, use of mobile phones while driving.
The seriousness of fatalities increases in drivers and passengers those who are not using helmet on two wheelers and not fastening the seat belt while in four- wheelers. In a recently published 2017 government of India report, it was found out that those people who are driving and simultaneously using mobile phones, if they sustain a road traffic accident, about 40 per cent of them die.
If you see the current scenario of road accidents, the things are quite similar almost everywhere in India as the author has travelled through nearly the whole country and scores of other countries in the world.
I think that aggression on the road is a common scenario on Indian roads and it seems that Indians take pride in breaking the existing traffic rules while travelling on the roads.
The road traffic accidents can result in injuries ranging from scratches to the death of the individual and knowing very well the consequences of road traffic accidents, the people are more adventurous on the road in India than anywhere else.
Because of this aggressive behaviour and violation of the traffic rules, the nation is losing a lot in terms of human and economic resource. Here I would like to cite an example of a patient who was driving a bike and had a head-on collision with another bike in which the other biker died.
The impact of the collision was so high that five inch broken piece of thigh bone of the patient penetrated into the thigh of the opposite biker. One of his upper limb is still paralysed and even after treatment he will not be able to achieve good upper limb function due to the severity of the injury. The same patient is still under treatment for the last one years.
In spite of the death of his friend and prolonged suffering, to my surprise and probably yours as well that the patient was requesting me to make him fit as soon as possible so that he can drive another bigger bike more powerful than the one he was riding earlier.
This is not a unique example but one of the hundred such cases I have come across in my 40 years of orthopaedic experience. This patient or the other patients like him, do not repent what they have done to themselves and to their family, friends and relatives.
Human resource is the biggest resource and country is losing it every day on the roads. It is not only the family and the friends who are losing this precious resource but the nation too.
Statics show that 70 per cent of the fatalities are occurring with the use of two wheelers and remaining involve four wheelers or public transport like buses.
A lot of the burden is borne by the pedestrian on the narrow roads. Though the numbers of accidents of the public transport vehicles are the least but they are fatal particularly on the well maintained highways in the plain area and they are more fatal in tortuous roads on mountains.
The numbers of accidents are less in mountains but the fatalities are more in Uttarakhand. According to state transport department’s report of 2018, about 1,500 accidents occur yearly and about 1,000 people die in these accidents.
If we follow traffic rules than we will not only save the lives of these people but save a significant amount of the money which is unnecessarily being wasted on the treatment. According to the recent UN and World Bank reports, in our country almost one fourth of the people are still living below the poverty line.
Those who cannot afford three meals a day cannot be expected to afford costly medical treatment.
In India health facilities are not comparable to those of a developed nation. In India, 50-70 per cent of the hospital expenses are borne by the patient even in government funded hospitals and almost 100 per cent in private hospitals. It is not only in our country that medical treatments are becoming expensive as in developed nations it is even more expensive.
In India, many of the people are getting the treatment after selling their assets like jewellery, land, vehicle, animals and house. Once it is sold it is difficult to buy back especially if the person is poor and unemployed.
These road traffic accidents are becoming a hurdle in the growth of nation. It should be the duty not only of the government but also of the public and social organisations to spread awareness on society and nation losing a lot in terms of human and financial resources.
The numbers of public transport vehicles are not increasing with the same pace as private vehicles. It is the need of the hour to increase the number of public transport buses to reduce the overcrowding of the private vehicles on the road and to develop new modes of mass transportation.
As the nation is growing, so is the number of vehicles. At present India has only one per cent of vehicles but 10 per cent deaths from road traffic accidents.
All of us should spread awareness to prevent these accidents because they have taken a form of an epidemic. If something is not done soon then it is bound to go out of control.
The public should learn the traffic rules and follow them; the government should teach the traffic rules and should enforce them to prevent the road traffic tragedies. Prevention is always better than cure.
(The author is an orthopaedic and spine surgeon, and the founding president of State Chapter of Indian Orthopaedic Association)