Kerala witnesses a disproportionately high number of road accident related fatalities and injuries as compared to other states with larger geographical area. These accidents come with high economic and social costs. Dr Pradeesh Kumar writes about how and why Kerala must increase its efforts to curb this menace.
Dr S. Pradeesh Kumar
Road Transportation is a widely preferred mode of travel due to its easy availability and longest last-mile connectivity. These advantages offered by road transportation as opposed to those offered by the other modes of transportation attract a major portion of passenger and freight movements to it (Peden, 2004). When there is a high demand for the road stretch and supply is unable to cope with the increased demand there are bound to be some after effects, and in the case of roads, it is the increased number of road accidents. A Road Accident is defined as an incident that takes place on roads open to public movements in which at least one moving vehicle is involved (Hopkin, J. M., & Simpson, H. F. 1995).
Every year nearly 13 lakh people die in road accidents around the world and 50 crores are injured. Developing countries are hit the hardest with 90 per cent of fatalities registered in the world taking place in the developing economies including India. India witnesses nearly 5 lakh road accidents every year in which nearly 1.5 lakh people die and more than 5 lakh persons are injured. There have not been many variations in the figures over the last ten years. India is the only country in which accident-related fatalities crossed one lakh; the second the list is China with less than half the accident-related fatalities India witnesses (Road accidents, OECD data, 2017).
Kerala registers eight to nine per cent of road accidents that happen in the country. Over forty thousand road accidents cases and a high number of injured victims must be a concern to a state which prides itself on a Human Development Index at par with the developed nations. In the year 2018, the road accidents statistics of the state show that Kerala roads witnessed 40181 road accidents cases in which 4303 people died and 45458 people were injured. These numbers took the state to the fifth and fourth positions respectively among the states in India in the category of the total number of road accidents and the number of injures (Road Accidents in Kerala 2001-2018, Official web portal of Kerala Police). For a state with a geographically smaller land area compared to many other states, these statistics should be taken seriously.
The category wise analysis of Kerala road accidents uncovers the following salient points:
- The four per cent of total road stretch in the state that belongs to the National and State Highways witnesses more than fifty per cent of the total registered road accidents, fatalities and injuries.
- Two-wheelers dominate not only in the registration of the total motorized vehicles but also in their involvement in road accidents.
- Rash driving or driver error is found as the main cause of ninety per cent of road accidents in the state.
The last (3rd) point cited above is a pointer to the fact that road accidents in Kerala are predominantly man-made tragedies. It is a cause with a remedy: Road Safety Activities. Road Safety is generally defined as any activity which attempts to make road transportation safe and reduce the negative impact of road accidents. In short, the activities should be spread across a number of areas such as the availability and efficiency of road stretches, educating the road users about using the stretch, the engineering and design of the vehicles, the availability of road traffic enforcement, and the road emergency responsive systems(NATPAC- Road Safety Guide, 2017). Though Kerala has been implementing road safety measures, the fact that over the past several years, the number of road accidents, fatalities, and injuries caused have more or less hovered around the same range raises questions of the efficiency of the implementation. There are many stakeholders involved in road safety activities in the state. The activities are spearheaded by the Road Safety Authority of Kerala as the apex body. But the coordination among the stakeholders is a major roadblock as there are many government departments that are involved in the activities. Such lack of coordination has led to instances where the same study has been conducted by two government departments separately (Dr Pradeesh Kumar S, & Dr Priyesh C A, 2018).
Time is running out for India to re-assess the target set eight years back in accordance with the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. The action plan had the ambitious target of reducing the number of road accident deaths by at least fifty per cent from the base year. But the number of road accidents being registered yearly shows that the nation is far from achieving the proposed target.
The problem of road accidents creates severe economic and social burdens. For a geographically smaller state like Kerala, it creates a huge economic loss to the society with the victims unable to contribute productively for a short period of time and in some cases, permanently. In addition to this economic impact, there is also a social impact. The social problem arises especially when the victims become permanently disabled and get excluded from the society which they have always been part of. This exclusion is a new social problem different from conventional exclusions such as caste, gender and other social exclusions. Kerala has been consistently featuring as one of the top five states in the country in terms of road accidents, and this is a “leadership” position that Kerala should not be proud of. Considering the high volume of road accidents and its economic and social impact, Kerala should re-assess the efficiency of its road safety measures. This article puts forward the recommendation that instead of depending on an apex authority for funds and actions, powers for assessing the road transportation problems should be diffused to the local self-government (LSG). This is because LSGs will have a better knowledge of the local roads and safety issues, and decentralisation would be more effective in road safety activities. The LSG bodies should constitute Road Safety Wings which can easily collect and compile the data of road accidents and can implement the measures for mitigating the risks.
- Hopkin, J. M., & Simpson, H. F. (1995). Valuation of Road Accidents. Transport Research Laboratory, Berkshire
- Kerala Police. (2018). Road Accidents in Kerala 2001-2018. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from https://keralapolice.gov.in/public-information/crime-statistics/road-accident
- Kumar, D. P., & Priyesh, D. (2018, December 1). Need a Red Signal for Man-Made Road Accidents. Mathrubhumi. Retrieved from https://www.mathrubhumi.com/auto/features/feature-about-road-accident-need-to-prevent-man-made-road-accidents-1.3356683
- Ministry of Road Transport & Highways. (2015). Road Accidents in India 2015.
- NATPAC. (2017). Safe Savari: Road Safety Guide.
- OECD. (2017). Transport – Road accidents – OECD data. Retrieved September 28, 2019, from https://data.oecd.org/transport/road-accidents.htmPeden, M. (2004). World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention. WHO and UNICEF.
About the Author: Dr S. Pradeesh Kumar is a Programme Associate at the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram. He holds a PhD in Economics from University of Kerala. His doctoral research was on the economic and social impact of road accidents in Kerala. He is one of the State Executive Members of Kerala Economic Association. His research interests include the economic impact of road accidents, social costs of road accidents and contribution of Special Economic Zones in Industrial development. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org