The medical dictionary defines a pandemic as a disease which spreads throughout the whole country or the world, affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population. A true pandemic causes high degree of mortality.
According to WHO data, nearly 1.35 million people die and almost 50 million people suffer as a result of road traffic accidents every year worldwide. Compared to this the Covid-19 pandemic has killed over a quarter million people and infected little over five million in about five months.
On May 11, 2011, United Nations declared the global plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. The UN set a goal to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020 but it could not be achieved. After almost a decade, the third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety was convened at the request of the UN general assembly by the government of Sweden and WHO in Febuary 2020. The theme of conference was “Achieving Global Goals 2030” and it highlighted the connection between road safety and many other sustainable development goals. Similarly the second world youth assembly co-hosted by WHO, together proclaimed “enough is enough”.
A Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of a specific stand-alone target in the health goal was adopted to reduce road traffic fatalities. The goal was set to halve the number of global deaths and injury from road traffic accidents (RTAs) by 2030. Our government has also set an ambitious target to save human lives on our roads. The road safety target with global goals is only going to be attained if we seriously work for it.
Human resource is the greatest resource in mankind and our country is losing almost 400 people every day on the roads due to these accidents. More than half of all RTA deaths are among young adults between 15 and 44 years of age and males account for 73 per cent of the fatalities. Most of them are bread winners for their family. A research conducted by us revealed that 90 per cent of these accidents occurred due to the driver’s negligence. The main causes of these accidents are overtaking, speeding, drunken driving and use of mobile phone while driving. We think that aggression on the road is a common scenario on Indian roads and it seems that we take pride in breaking the traffic rules. The people are more adventurous on the road in India than anywhere else in the world. All these causes of accidents are due to behavioural problem of the drivers which should be tackled to prevent road traffic menace. Because of this aggressive behaviour and violation of traffic rules, the nation is losing a lot in terms of human and economic resource.
Another major problem with the increasing number of vehicles in India is the congestion on the roads. Though, the length of roads is increasing, it is not in proportion to the increasing number of vehicles. Road network has grown only by a third in the last decade while number of vehicles has multiplied three times exacerbating congestion. The total number of vehicles in 1951 grew by 823 times to 252 million in 2017.
More than a million people are killed and millions are being injured in RTAs each year worldwide. This situation is quite serious in India too. About five lakh accidents occurring annually in India cause 1.5 lakh deaths while one-fourth of those who survive become permanently disabled and only one fourth of them achieve their pre injury status in spite of the best treatment available in our country.
According to WHO and government of India report, in our country, we lost around 50,000 people due to road traffic accidents in the corresponding four months last year while with the Covid-19 pandemic this year in India the death rate has decreased to almost two and a half thousand people only. If we compare the deaths caused by road accidents and Covid-19, the deaths in the latter are almost negligible.
According to road transport ministry report, two-wheeler riders are the most vulnerable lot and as many as one-third (35.2%) of those killed were two-wheeler riders followed by car and jeep drivers. Public transport is the most-safe in current scenario in our country.
If we want to reduce the numbers of accidents in our country then we have to first reduce numbers of vehicles and have to increase mass public transportation. The numbers of accident have drastically been reduced as per Uttarakhand police reports and that during lockdown in April 2020 the numbers of death due to road traffic accidents was almost zero. In another report only 750 people were killed in road crashes across the country between March 25 and May 31. It proves that the road traffic accidents are directly proportional to the number of vehicles on roads.
Following the ministerial conference held in February concluding with the Stockholm Declaration, the new global plan for Decade of Action shifted to safe affordable, accessible, sustainable mode of transport like walking, cycling and using public transport.
In our opinion whether person dies due to Covid -19 pandemic or a traffic accident; it is a loss to the family and ultimately a loss to the nation. The way the government, NGOs, media and society at large have shown enthusiasm and spent resources to spread awareness to contain Covid-19 pandemic has been commendable. If a fraction of it is spent on preventing this road traffic epidemic then the resulting saving human lives will be worthwhile.
The policy makers, administrators and public should comprehend this and all should try to control the RTA pandemic at each level. We all should always remember and remind others that prevention is better than cure.
Monday, 08 June 2020 | Dr BKS Sanjay & Dr Gaurav Sanjay | Dehradun
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