New Delhi: India not only has the dubious distinction of having one of the worst road accident records in the world, but that these are taking more and more young lives, particularly of school children.
Road accidents have left nearly 70 children dead and many injured since the start of 2013, a NGO has said. More than 60 students were also injured in 11 accidents spread over seven states since January 2013 till July this year. In all instances, the victims were travelling in school buses which were either hit by other vehicles or trains or rolled down mountain slopes.
According to NGO Save Life Foundation, which works for road safety, the accidents took place in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Telangana.
In one of the worst disasters, 19 students were killed and some 20 injured when their school bus was smashed by a speeding train at an unmanned rail-road crossing in Telangana Thursday. The dead included the school bus driver.
Although the number of school children is a miniscule part of the total number of Indians dying daily on the roads, activists say most accidents are avoidable.
Piyush Tewari, founder and president of Save Life Foundation, said holding an adult "accountable for safety of children while on the move" and having child safety laws would act as deterrents.
Two accidents this year injured 12 school students. The first took place May 12 in Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh, injuring two students. Ten students were injured in adjoining Noida April 29 when their school bus was hit by a state-run bus.
Three children died when their school bus collided with a truck at Malkapur in Maharashtra Jan 10 this year.
According to the foundation, all the accidents involving school buses in 2013 led to deaths.
Six students lost their lives on the Solapur-Dhule highway while on an excursion in Maharashtra Dec 7, 2013.
In an accident in Tamil Nadu's Pudukottai district in June 2013, a mini van collided with a bus, killing seven school children.
Another seven children died when their bus fell into a gorge in Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag district in April 2013.
In July last year, 11 students were killed and 20 injured when their bus hit a truck in Rajasthan's Hanumangarh district.
Another school bus-truck collision in Jalandhar in Punjab March 4, 2013, left 11 children dead.
These figures indicate how grave the issue of child safety was in India, said Tewari.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 20 children under the age of 14 years die daily in road accidents in India. The nearly 70 deaths between January 2013 and July 2014 are of school students.
Still, India has no child safety laws, Tewari said. Under child safety laws, children should be provided helmets and seat belts, and an adult should be posted on all school buses to supervise them and check errant drivers.
A RTI-based study by the foundation found that deaths while going to schools rose in 2012 by 39.25 percent.
School buses should be put in a special class of vehicles, like an ambulance, said Tewari. "School buses are commercial vehicles, which means a truck driver can drive a school bus," Tewari told IANS.
Special category would bring in three distinct benefits.
"First, it will ensure that there is a strong procedure to check on the licensing," Tewari said.
"Second, the drivers will be required to undergo training and will have to renew their licence each year.
"Third, there will be certain safety standards such as seat belts, low floor buses in place," he said.
Tewari wants those neglecting the safety of children while commuting to be subjected to severe penalties.
India has only about one percent of the world's vehicles but accounts for 10 percent of the world's road accidents. According to Save Life Foundation, there is a road accident death in India every four minutes and about 380 deaths occur every day, equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing daily.