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Theme for the day: road safety

By G. Ananthakrishnan

CHENNAI, APRIL 6. Wednesday is World Health Day, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has adopted Road Safety as its theme, to focus on a scourge that claims 12 lakh lives a year the world over: accidents.

On the WHO's map of fatality rates, India stands out in red, as the country with the worst road safety record: a mortality rate of 29.2 to 34.5 per lakh of population compared with 18.9 to 29.1 for China, parts of South-East Asia and most of Sub-Saharan Africa, and 16.2 to 18.8 for West Asia, Latin America/Central America and Mexico. The industrialised world has a figure of 11.2 to 16.1. In absolute terms, about 80,000 people die on Indian roads each year, a sharp rise from 14,500 three decades ago. Nearly four lakh people are maimed.

"Road Safety Is No Accident" is the slogan for the day. The WHO has identified five areas for intervention based on empirical observations and studies. These are speed, alcohol, seat belts, helmets and visibility. Research shows that 30 per cent of all crashes are caused by speed. And the incidence of a fatal crash goes up by 5 per cent for every one km per hour increase in speed. Pedestrians are eight times more likely to die if they are hit by a car travelling at 50 kmph, than at 30 kmph.

Safety studies indicate that seat belts, which are now standard equipment in passenger cars, cut fatalities by up to 65 per cent for adults. In contrast to the "Education is key" approach to road safety, advocacy today emphasises technology-based solutions, engineering and sustained enforcement as priority factors. Dinesh Mohan, Professor of Biomechanics and Transportation Safety at IIT Delhi's Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme, says in a WHO paper that "education programmes are by themselves usually insufficient to change overall behaviour."

What has worked to reduce accidents, according to Prof. Mohan, is the enforcement of laws on drunken driving, placing of cameras at intersections, use of helmets, seat belts and airbags, traffic calming techniques in urban areas, creation of facilities for pedestrians and cyclists besides statutory reduction of speeds.

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