Streets for life: Global call to reduce speed

Matters India, MAY 19, 2021

By George Cheriyan & Simi T.B.,

Jaipur: UN Global Road Safety Week (UNGRSW) is a biennial global road safety campaign hosted by WHO. It brings together individuals, governments, NGOs, corporations, and other organizations from around the world to raise awareness of road safety and make changes that will reduce the number of road deaths. The theme for the 6th UNGRSW, to be held from May 17-23, 2021, is Streets for Life #Love30 calling for 30 km/h default speed limits where people and vehicles mix. 2021-30 also mark the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030, with the ambitious target of preventing at least 50 percent of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030.

Streets for Life

Indian streets have never been just a place for motor vehicles to ply; they are public spaces for people to walk, run, cycle, shop and participate in other social activities thereby making living enjoyable within cities. Childhood of majority of Indians is also filled with unforgettable moments of playing gully cricket, football or even plain running on streets. But with the increasing number of vehicles on road, now this public space to great lengths has become the most dangerous place. Lack of road discipline by its users is causing difficulties for oneself and others who are on the streets. It is becoming more somber in our country as it has a huge growing population buzzing around cities that are often inadequate and poorly planned with narrow roads and heavy traffic.

Speed, the Killer

India, which has 1 percent of the world’s vehicles, accounts for 10 percent of all road crash victims, as per the latest World Bank report on road safety. According to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, every year across the country more than 150,000 people lose their lives in road accidents and among these, those in the age group of 18-45 years account for nearly 69.3 percent of the road accident victims. Besides, it is estimated that road crashes in India have also led to socioeconomic losses ranging somewhere between 1 to 3.14 percent of national GDP.

Reports also point out that the single most important factor responsible for road accidents in India is over speeding which accounted for a share of 71.1 percent in road accidents and 67.7 percent of road accident deaths. This data points towards the significance of the 6th UNGRSW that call upon policymakers across the globe to act for low-speed streets worldwide, limiting speeds to 30 km/h where people walk, live and play.

Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has revised the maximum speed of various classes of vehicles through a notification in April 2018. Thus a passenger vehicle with not more than 8 seats including driver can have a maximum speed of 120 km/hr on expressways and 70km/hr on municipal roads. However, the implementation is a challenge.

SDGs and Road Safety

The country addressing the risk of death in road accidents is also fundamental to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG target 3.6 of SDG 3 and target 11.2 of SDG 11 aims to halve global road deaths by 2020 and provide universal access to safe transport in cities by 2030, respectively. Aiding to achieve such global targets will prove to be challenging for the country at this current rate of casualties. Already the country has failed to meet its global commitment to reduce its road death rate by 50 percent by 2020 – a commitment made by India in 2015 at the second global high-level conference on road safety in Brasília when it had recorded 501,423 road accidents killing 146,133 people.

Hidden epidemic

It is high time for the country to acknowledge that road accidents are a ‘hidden epidemic’, which left unaddressed or carelessly handled has the potential to wipe out not only many precious young lives but also cause serious damage to the overall economic progress of the nation which is already reeling due to COVID crisis.

Since the 1990s, there has been a sharp increase in the number of accidents in India owing to a significant increase in the number of motor vehicles without adequate planning of road systems. Those factors, combined with over speeding of motor vehicles and lack of lane discipline, have paved the way for a rise in traffic deaths and injuries. Some states like Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka have highest traffic fatality rates and have been so since 2016. Among cities, Delhi retains its first rank for road accident deaths followed by Jaipur, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kanpur. Most of the people killed in such traffic accidents are two wheelers and pedestrians in India. In the year 2019 alone two wheelers and pedestrians together accounted for 54 percent of the road accident-related killings and they are the most vulnerable category as in most other countries.

A Call to reduce the Speed

So, the importance of bringing down the speeds of motor vehicles on busy streets becomes vital to curb the rise in the number of accidents. The need for such speed limits sounds even more reasonable in the current context of the on-going COVID-19 crisis, where more people in order to commute and to ensure physical distancing started depending upon cycles and walking. Besides reducing the risk of accidents on busy streets, this approach supports sustainable and healthy mobility. Therefore, limiting traffic speed to 30km/h can prove to be a win-win strategy in the long run.

At the same time, while education and prevention are vital to curtail the growing national concern, it is the rigorous enforcement of traffic laws that would prove as a game changer. There is a total apathy among key stakeholders involved in enforcement. So the country needs to work upon many other things too that are mostly overlooked otherwise.

(George Cheriyan is Director and Simi T.B. is Policy Analyst, both work at CUTS International, a global public policy research and consumer advocacy organisation.)

This article can also be viewed at: