Road Safety is an important public health concern with serious social and economic consequences. India continues to account for the highest road crashes at the global level with the World Bank’s 2019 report suggesting 53 crashes happening on an hourly basis with one fatality every four minutes. India accounts for 13 per cent of the total road traffic fatalities in the world according to MoRTH. In addition to an individual’s physical, emotional and financial losses, it also costs the country a staggering economic loss that cannot be overlooked. With the data underscoring the enormity of the road safety issue, it needs to be seen as a critical development priority.
Importance of a Road Safety Policy
A policy is a formal document that is backed institutionally and legally to enable rules, regulations, and guidelines to streamline active response at various levels of the government to any identified concern or issue. A Road Safety Policy should be an ideal part of any country or state’s Road Safety Management system. There is a need to understand the weightage of the road crashes, their liabilities; to promote awareness about road safety issues among various stakeholders; to consistently engage with them to implement road safety measures at different levels; and above all to secure political willingness to improve the road safety scenario by taking timely action and continually monitoring its progress. Therefore, the policy formulation acts as the first step towards initiating an active response to the existing road safety scenario.
Tamil Nadu’s road safety scenario – A quick glance
The state of Tamil Nadu has ranked the highest in terms of the number of annual road accidents for five consecutive years (2015-2019) contributing to more than 10,000 road fatalities in 2019. Though the state has been taking consistent efforts since 2017 to improve the road safety scenario through enhanced road crash database and management systems, improved enforcement strategies, institutional changes including the recent post-crash emergency care schemes, these are often stand-alone measures that are not anchored by a central road safety vision. This makes it difficult to monitor and track progress, implement data-driven approaches and produce tangible results in a sustained manner.
A look into the existing Road Safety Policy regime of the state shows that the policy dates back to 2007 way before the notification of the National Road Safety Policy in 2010, making Tamil Nadu the first state to bring in a policy as a part of the road safety management system. However, the status of the existing Road Safety Policy calls for an immediate review to ensure that the policy reflects prevailing road safety issues and identifies existing policy constraints. A revised policy to strategize realistic, effective responses would be the perfect recipe to sustain and actualise a holistic approach to road safety in Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu’s Road Safety Policy – Hits and Misses
The skeleton of the policy document has been adopted from the National Road Safety Policy draft and identifies a road safety vision backed by data facts, with Engineering, Enforcement, and Education as the major thrust areas. This is further supported by a quantitative target: a medium term objective to achieve a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and injuries by 2013, considering 2006 as the base year. Such identified time-targets help the government and the public recognise the intensity of the concern at hand and work towards achieving measurable outcomes. It also recognises the need for an improved data collection process and reliable information database, safe road infrastructure, safe drivers, effective enforcement practices and Emergency Medical Response (EMR) with a focus on increasing hospital capacity, funding and strengthening the institutional framework. CAG’s detailed comparative analysis of Road Safety Policies across 10 states in the country, revealed that Tamil Nadu has included an exclusive focus area for Safe Speed to assist the promotion of safety for Vulnerable Road Users (VRUs) which most of the other states have missed out on. The structure of the document is easy to understand and unusually, the policy language used is simple assuring an easy read for the layperson.
Although Tamil Nadu’s Road Safety Policy identifies and prioritises the focus areas in a clear manner with action statements drafted under each, it falls into the common pattern of what a fair share of the other states have done in their Road Safety Policy documents viz. lack of clarity on an implementation strategy for each action statement devised. A practical legal and institutional framework to support action on ground is a major miss. No exclusive policy statement reinforcing the need to view road safety as a multi-sectoral concern and focus on interdepartmental coordination has been included. Application of road safety policy provisions with regards to urban and rural areas have not been clearly mentioned. Mandatory periodic policy review remains unaddressed in the document. The policy does not refer to or explicitly mention the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act and other existing central legislation since the policy stands unexamined since its formulation. This indirectly paves way for underestimating the weightage of the road safety concerns and the prevailing dangerous road user behaviour. It also leads to ambiguity and negligence of existing statutory provisions.
Research and Development is one of the most important aspects that contributes to widening of knowledge and fine tuning of the policy. This has not been prioritised nor mentioned in Tamil Nadu’s Road Safety Policy. Lack of appropriate resource allocation – personnel; training and education; equipment/technology is evident owing to poor research and capacity building strategies. The policy fails to recognise the need for political commitment and emphasise the need for coordination between the state and the Central governments. This has left the action on ground unanchored with work happening in silos. Hence, in spite of some progress, the state has not been able to capitalize on it.
In comparison with road safety policies of other states, Tamil Nadu has neither explored nor adopted best practices from international case studies. (E.g.: “Safe Systems Approach” that has been adopted by the State of Haryana and holds an inherent place in its Road Safety Policy vision). In terms of a financial framework, though the policy identifies the need for involvement of private actors, it does not clearly outline details of a dedicated budget and funding sources for each devised action resulting in an unsustainable model of implementation.
Identifying focus areas for improvement
Road Safety Policy should not be considered as a one time strategy document that will prove sufficient for years to come. State governments should understand that policy formulation is a continual process and periodic understanding of the road safety scenario and refinement of the policy is essential. Therefore, keeping in mind the identified hits and misses, and the recent press releases by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu announcing schemes on post-crash response, Emergency Medical Care (EMR) and plans to set up a lead agency (i.e. Road Safety Authority), the following focus areas have been identified to ensure an actionable policy:
- Improve data competency under crash investigation to support data-driven decision making
- Define short term goals and interim targets under each focus area
- Define the legal and institutional framework with appropriate reference to existing central and local level laws to support implementation of the proposed road safety measures. This should also include annexures clearly specifying the roles and responsibilities of the agencies/stakeholders involved
- Appropriate distribution of power and responsibilities from the state to the local level groups, thereby widening the coordination with all stakeholders, including CSOs that are interested in supporting road safety activities.
- Specify a time period for annual routines, short term inspections/audits under the specific focus areas and mandate them through legislation to enable effective monitoring of progress.
- Focus on Research and Human Resource Development
- Garner political will and commitment across all departments/ministries at the state and national levels
- Leverage the use of technology and equipment in monitoring and implementation
- Allocate a dedicated road safety budget.
Knowledge sharing and need for innovation
Knowledge sharing is one of the most underutilised approaches when devising any policy. It is important to learn from existing road safety practices and adopt them to suit our contextual needs. Indian states such as Haryana, Punjab, Karnataka, and Delhi are a few examples to learn from owing to the quality of their policy documents that borrows vision and strategies from global best practices. Several international case studies including that of the UK, USA, and Netherlands point to reduction in road crash fatalities due to realistic and achievable road safety strategies and policies that were adopted. These countries have prioritised preventing fatalities and severe injuries through vision statements that led to new design principles backed by research and data analysis; planning and engineering methods such as safety audits, black spot reduction, speed regulation; implementation of regional pilot projects to test the effectiveness of proposed strategies, etc.
We all know that crashes are preventable. Adoption of an appropriate Road Safety Policy is the main driving force in delivering effective countermeasures to prevailing road safety issues. It is high time we redefine our state’s Road Safety Policy to enable various stakeholders to come together and operate efficiently in a timely and coordinated manner.