The total number of vehicles registered in India increased from 37 million in 1997 to 73 million in 2004 representing an annual growth rate of about 14%. But only about 70% of the registered vehicles are on the road. The vehicular sales jumped from 3.6 million in 1997 to 9.5 million in 20007 registering an average annual increase of 10-12% per year.
Similarly the total number of road traffic fatalities increased from 77,000 in 1997 to 1, 14,590 in 2007. There was a 4% raise in fatalities from 1997 to 2003 and 8% per year since then. The number of fatalities per million populations remained around 79-83 from 1997 to 2003 and since then has increased to 101.
Traffic fatalities per unit population are an indicator of the health burden of road traffic accidents on society at regional or national level. What is more important is risk of injuries per trip and the total number of trips is proportionate to the population. Traffic fatalities per unit population are a rough indicator of risk faced by the individuals. The risk of being involved in a fatal road traffic crash has been increasing for Indians over the past few years. The increase may be due to increase in the number of motor vehicles but fatalities can be minimized if adequate safety measures are implemented.
In a study conducted it was shown that car occupants were a small proportion (3% in Delhi and 15% on national highways. Vulnerable road users (Pedestrians, Bicyclists, Motorized two wheeler riders) accounted for 84% of deaths in Delhi and 67% on high ways. This pattern is very much different from that of developed countries. The car ownership is very low in India (7 per 100) when compared to west (50 per 100) and this explains the low fatalities in car occupants. Vulnerable road users are going to be the dominant group in the fatalities in the coming years also. This incidence of road traffic fatalities can only be controlled if road safety policies address the safety of vulnerable road users.
In a study conducted in 2007 only 15% of the victims were females and only 6% were children less than 14 years though their share of population is 32%. 70% 0f the victims were in the age group 30-59 years. The lesser incidence in females is partly due to low representation of women in the work force. But the low representation of children is curious, since significant numbers of them walk and bicycle to school unescorted.
In the same study the fatalities were analyzed based on time. The incidence is high between 9 am and 9 pm in both city and rural roads. Between 9 pm and 12 midnight the fatalities remain high even though the traffic volumes are less. Between 12 midnight and 6 am the fatalities are much higher in rural roads compared to that of city roads. Commercial goods traffic in national highways may account for this discrepancy. The high rates in the night could be due to higher frequency of drunken driving. In a hospital based study around 30% of riders of two wheelers admitted to alcohol consumption.
The same study analyzed fatality rates city wise for the year 2001 and 2007. Delhi had the highest fatality in 2007(140 per million population) and Kolkata the lowest (35 per million). In this period of 6 years Asansol had the highest increase 433%. The vast majority of them were vulnerable road users and the most possible cause could be increase in vehicle speeds. The probability of pedestrian deaths is estimated at less than 10% at impact speeds of 30km/hr and greater than 50% at 50 km/hr. The relationship between increase in fatalities and increase in impact velocities is governed by a power of four. Small increase in urban speeds can increase death rates dramatically. In rural highways the majority of fatalities were when trucks were involved. 25% – 28 % of the victims were pedestrians. The most important findings of this study was that the fatality rate per volume was more than 3 times higher on the four lane section than on two lane sections. The construction of four lane divided highways has not reduced fatality rates and vulnerable road users still account for a large proportion of fatalities. There is an urgent need for redesign of intercity roads and research studies are necessary for new designs. Two modelling exercises have attempted to predict the time period when we might expect fatality rates to start to decline. One model suggests that they will start declining by 2042 and the other model predicts an earlier date of 2030. If we assume that the present growth rate 8% per year decline in a linear manner to 0% in 2030, then we can expect about 260,000 fatalities by 2030. Both models are not acceptable.
In summary road safety policies in India must focus on these issues to reduce the incidence of accidents and India specific measures are needed. This needs establishment of a National Road safety board and road safety research centers in academic institutions.