Road accidents snuff out numerous innocent lives across the country every year. In an exclusive interview to The Sunday Guardian, T.K. -Malhotra, president, Automobile Association of Upper India (AAUI), spoke his mind on road safety and related issues. Excerpts:
Q. Road safety standards in India have not seen any improvement since the past many years. Where do you think we lack in protecting the lives of innocent people who die in accidents?
A: Road accidents amount to one death every three minutes, or 480 deaths every day in India and it is as horrifying as a commercial airliner crash. Until May 2011 when the UN Global Road Safety Week was launched, the pressing issue culminated in the symbolic Road Safety Week to be observed in the first week of every new calendar. Unfortunately, road safety measures have not been adequately implemented across the country by the regulatory authorities. This government at the Centre, in consultation with the states and other non-governmental stakeholders, drafted the Road Safety Bill. However, our parliamentarians could not prioritise the Bill on the discussion agenda in Parliament. The Sundar Committee on Road Safety and Traffic Management, with which I was associated as a Special Invitee, submitted its report in 2007 for consideration by the Parliament. The report finally appears to be in line for consideration after about seven long years. Meanwhile, pending introduction of critical reforms in the Central Motor Vehicles’ Act 1988 (under the Road Safety Bill), valuable lives continue to be lost in road accidents.
Q: Do you think a stringent law could bring down road accidents in India?
A: Enforcement of road safety rules is as important as making the law itself. Proactive, continuous and diligent enforcement is the single most critical factor that can make a difference. Existing initiatives to engage students and volunteers as traffic management wardens has been largely ineffective as road safety and traffic management requires specialised knowledge and skills.
Q: In the past few months, cases of over speeding by private vehicles in Delhi, caught on CCTV cameras, have led to deaths — such incidents have also happened across the country. How can over speeding by private vehicles be checked?
A: A few years ago, a special force of traffic police was formed with 200 motorcycles, and was flagged off from India Gate in Delhi by the then Lt-Governor. The initiative, to stop speed violations, received much publicity, but there was no progress two months after its launch.
Q: Some cars of big automobile manufacturers in India recently failed to pass the crash test. How can the automobile industry ensure that their manufactured vehicles are safe? Should airbags in cars be made mandatory in India?
A: No matter what advanced technologies are used to construct vehicles, it ultimately depends on the attitude of the person sitting on the wheels for its safe maneuverability, and compliance with road safety norms. However, airbags are one of the most important safety features, and are required to be factory installed in every new vehicle almost across all countries globally.
In India, the technology for driver and passenger airbags should be mandated as a standard feature in all new vehicles entering the market. The Central Motor Vehicles’ Act should also be amended to mandate use of rear-facing infant car seats and front-facing toddler seats in India and stringent enforcement and heavy penalties for violation should be provided in the Act.
Q: Do you think that the automobile industry “lobby” is at play to stop the government from bringing in a stringent road safety and transport law?
A: I do not think that the automobile industry in our country is averse to endorsing road safety and traffic management enhancements. The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) is an effective body and has always supported the cause of road safety in the public interest.
Q: Transport being a state subject, do you think that the process of issuing drivers’ licences should be reformed?
A: The drivers’ licencing system in India should be made more stringent, and a formal driving training education should not be a choice, but a pre-requisite for a driver’s license application like in many developed countries. Knowledge refresher tests should be mandated for Light Motor Vehicle drivers, every five years from the date of issuance of their driver’s licence.
The eligible age to drive should also be reduced to 17 years from 18 now as the present generation is more mature than those in the past.
Q: What can be done to check the increasing number of vehicles being registered to reduce the load of traffic on roads?
A: Approximately 1,200 new vehicles are registered daily in Delhi, when there are over eight million vehicles on Delhi roads already. The present road infrastructure does not allow for such high volumes of vehicular traffic, and prevents effective road safety enforcement. Daily registration of vehicles should be rationalised. The New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP), introduced in Europe many years ago, is the need of the hour for India.