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India, a country of road killers

I was watching a movie in the first floor of our house that fateful afternoon of ‘94 when that call came and changed our lives forever. It was my mother who had called from the ground floor of our house to inform me through her uncontrollable tears that she had just then received a call that my younger brother had died in a road accident. I rushed down hoping against hope that it was someone else. My dad was sure it wouldn’t be someone else — as I drove our car frantically towards Gurgaon where the accident had happened — and advised me to drive slowly. He had done his maximum possible to see to it that we never developed a fascination for motorbikes. My father was definite that a motorbike was a sure-shot route to disaster on Indian roads. So the soonest he could, he bought a car for us. I still remember that day in 1993, after he had bought a fifth-hand 1977 model Toyota, he entered the house, lay down on the bed in a relaxed manner and told my grandmother, “I have put a kavach around my children today.” Unfortunately, that was not to be.

So, that afternoon, did my brother really let my father down by taking a ride on a two-wheeler from our institute’s campus to the highway to have lunch? No. It’s India’s pathetic road safety that let him down. We are a country of road killers. The highest number of road deaths in the world happens in India. While with only a mere 12 million vehicles, we have about 1,14,000 deaths on roads.

Can you fathom this, that as a nation, we lose $20 billion annually to road accidents, enough money to do away with 50% of our country’s malnutrition problem?
Here is a look at what some countries plan for their citizens! A country like USA decided to take a target of reducing road deaths by 20% in 10 years; for UK, the target taken was 40%; Austria took 50%; and even a country like Malaysia took a target of bringing road deaths down to less than 3 per 10,000 vehicles! What about India’s targets? Well, what’s that? UN’s global forecast shows road deaths becoming the third highest cause of premature deaths by the year 2020.

In India, our future development initiatives need to have a focus on better road planning. We need new and extremely strict rules for obtaining licenses! Rules disallowing youth with fresh driving licenses in the first year to drive 125 cc or higher powered bikes are a must.

All in all, the reason I write this piece is because road accidents are not only preventable but can be wiped out — a country like Sweden implemented something called Vision Zero in 1997, with an ultimate aim to bring down road accident deaths/severe injuries to zero! That’s called vision. And near-about that’s what is ultimately possible.

Yes, parents do have a role to play. When my dad bought me my first car, he explained to me endlessly that a car was like having a killing machine in your hands. One day, perhaps out of slight jealousy at that comparison, I had asked my father, what if I were driving safely but someone jumped in front of my car? Then there would be an accident, wouldn’t there be? He had calmly replied, “A car is a killing machine. If your speed limit is right, you will even save that person from committing suicide.” I haven’t forgotten that one lesson till this day.

— The writer is a management guru and Honorary Director of IIPM Think TankĀ 

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