The Road Accidents in India-2020 report was recently released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. The report provides complete statistics relating to road transportation, including road accidents. Data indicates that the number of road accidents reduced significantly in 2020 on account of the severe movement restrictions induced by COVID-19. However, this reduction is not uniform across states.
Transportation is the lifeline for the economic development of a country. Transportation also plays a key role in minimizing the inequities in the socio-economic development of the nation. Among various modes of transportation, movement by road is the most preferred choice for the majority. Road network is the dominant form of transport in India owing to its ease of access, and flexibility. Unfortunately, it is also the mode of transportation that is ridden with most accidents, and casualties.
India has one of the largest road networks in the world, with over 6.4 million Kilometres of total road length. This vast network provides for the transportation of more than 60% of all goods and services, and more than 90% prefer it as their primary mode of transportation. India also holds a distinct record of having road accidents as one of the major causes of hospitalizations and deaths. India tops the world with more than 10% of global deaths due to road accidents. In addition to the loss of lives, road accidents also inflict a significant socio-economic cost, that adds up to 3 Lakh crores or 1.3% of India’s GDP.
Keeping in mind the considerable socio-economic costs, and the number of lives impacted, it is important to look at the data relating to various aspects of road accidents. In this context, we look at the Road Accidents in India-2020 report (RA-2020), released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH).
Ambiguity in data
Before delving into the data, it is important to understand the sources of data. Statistics about road accidents can be found from the below two reports:
- ‘Road accidents in India (RAI)’ by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH)
- ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI)’ by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)
The RAI by MORTH gives complete statistics relating to road transportation, including road accidents. The ADSI by NCRB provides statistics on ‘traffic accidents’ which is a cumulative of the number of road accidents, railway accidents, and the number of accidents at railway crossings. The data for ADSI by NCRB is collated using the data provided by the states/UT’s police. The data for Road Accidents in India by MORTH is also sourced from the States/UT’s police, but in the standard format prescribed by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) under the Asia Pacific Road Accident Data (APRAD) base project. The standard format that states follow to report to NCRB is different from the above. Both these organizations report the statistics at the end of the calendar year. Such different formats will lead to different results, a case in point is the number of road accidents in 2020. The ADSI by NCRB reported the number of ‘road accidents’ in India at 3,54,796 while RAI by MORTH reports the same at 3,66,138. Upon state-wise comparison, states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and West Bengal showed larger variations in the data in these two reports. Similarly, the APRAD format defines fatal accidents as those accidents that result in death within 30 days of the accident. It is not clear how the NCRB classifies accidents as fatal. This kind of ambiguity in definitions and data collection ends up in vastly different data on the same subject.
Road accidents are declining
The number of road accidents occurring in India had been declining since 2015, except for a marginal increase in 2018. The number of road accidents decreased by nearly 37% from 5,01,423 in 2015 to 3,66,138 in 2020. This percentage decrease is only around 11% if we consider the data till 2019 since 2020 is an outlier year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent containment measures in terms of mobility restrictions. The exact reasons for such decline are hard to point out. Nevertheless, factors like better traffic management principles, pro-active initiatives by governments regarding road safety, the introduction of the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act, 2019 among other things.
More vehicles, but fewer accidents
India is witnessing significant growth in private vehicle ownership and subsequent motorization. The number of registered vehicles grew consistently over the last decade, thereby increasing the vehicle density which is defined as the number of vehicles per kilometre. It is generally expected that greater vehicle congestion leads to greater number of accidents. However, if we look at the trend of accident rate, i.e., the number of accidents per 10000 kilometres, it is decreasing consistently. The precise reason for such peculiar trend is unknown.
Fewer accidents, but more fatalities
While the declining number of road accidents is a positive sign, the increasing number of fatalities or the accident severity is a huge concern. Road accident severity is defined as the number of fatalities per 100 road accidents. Barring a few fluctuations, the road accident severity has been increasing for the past two decades. This increasing fatalities or accident severity highlights the absence of super-specialty trauma care centres, and lack of traffic calming measures. The ambiguity and the lack of awareness about the ‘Good Samaritan Law’ could also be one of the reasons behind such high fatalities.
Huge inter-state variations in road accidents
Around ten states account for nearly 80% of all the road accidents in the country in 2020. Interestingly, this set of ten states consistently contributes to most of the road accidents in India. Majority of these ten states belong to south-western India, showing the inter-regional differences in the state’s contribution towards road accidents. The exact reason for this kind of concentrated road accident is difficult to. However, economic prosperity could be one of the driving factors behind increasing road accidents in these states as most of these states are economically well off than the others.
Inter-state reductions in road accidents
From the earlier sections, it is evident that the number of road accidents have been declining from the past six years. However, this reduction in the number of accidents is not uniform across the states. Few states record greater decline than the national average, while few others fall below the national average. Nagaland and Dadra & Nagar Haveli recorded an increment in road accidents in 2020 compared with 2019. The National average reduction of accident cases is 18.5% in 2020. Excluding Union Territories and North-Eastern States, the greater reduction in the road accidents is seen in Kerala with 32.2%, followed by Maharashtra with 24.2%, Gujarat with 21.4%, Tamil Nadu with 20.5%, Uttar Pradesh with 19.6%, and Rajasthan with 18.6%. Bigger states like West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh recorded a reduction level below the national average in the pandemic year of 2020.
Is this reduction due to COVID-19 induced mobility restrictions?
As mentioned earlier, 2020 is an outlier year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The containment measures to stop the spread of the pandemic resulted in mobility restrictions across the country. The first lockdown started began on 25 March 2020, followed by lockdown 2.0 on 14 April 2020, Lockdown 3.0 from 04 May 2020, and finally Lockdown 5.0 on 24 May 2020. Almost all states enforced strict measures till 31 May 2020. Throughout these two months of lockdown, some or the other forms of restrictions were imposed, effectively rendering most kinds of movements on roads difficult.
In a country where almost 1200 road accidents take place every day, restrictions in mobility for around 60 days could result in significant reductions in total number of road accidents. Though all states were affected by the pandemic, the impact was not equally felt. Some states were more affected which led them to continue restrictions for a longer period, while some states lifted the restrictions quite soon. The unlock guidelines came into effect from 01 June 2020 and were gradually eased with subsequent guidelines. A total of six unlock guidelines were issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which enabled the lifting of restrictions in a phased manner.
States were given the freedom to assess the conditions and impose any restrictions as they deem necessary. Tamil Nadu, which has the largest share of total road accidents, extended its lockdown till 31 July 2020. States like Mizoram, Jharkhand, extended the lockdown restrictions till the end of August 2020, Punjab extended weekend lockdowns and night curfews till the end of September 2020, Maharashtra eased inter-state movement of persons from the beginning of September 2020 with few other restrictions under COVID-19 lockdown extended till September end. Rajasthan also had similar restrictions with capacity restrictions till the last week of September 2020. Many other states followed their own strategy of imposing lockdowns and curfews based on the assessment of their local conditions.
States like Kerala, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu imposed strict lockdown measures. It is therefore understandable that these states showed a greater decline in their share of road accidents in 2020. In effect, lockdown and mobility restricting measures had a positive correlation with the decline in road accidents. However, the true extent of such impact and the precise state-level impact is difficult to corroborate as different states followed different strategies for lifting restrictions in phased and calibrated manner.
In addition to the pandemic, the implementation of New Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 2019 is also touted to be a reason behind the decrease in the number of road accidents. In an answer to the Parliament, the Minister for Road Transport and Highways pointed out to a majorly declining trend in the accidents and fatalities after the implementation of the said act. Data available from states and UT’s five months after the implementation of the act also supplements the above argument. Additionally, the Ministry had launched the “Integrated Road Accident Database (IRAD)” to generate analytics and data relating to road safety. States such as Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh were chosen as pilots for this database.
More actions are necessary
For a country like India with huge young demographic, deaths due to road accidents should be the last thing be worried about. Instead, it has become the leading cause of death for youth aged between 15-30 years. Losing young potential demographic to something preventable and avoidable is a grave concern, something India cannot afford. It is high time for policy makers and planners to find innovative and cost-effective solutions that cover the issue of transportation comprehensively, right from quality road construction to better traffic management. The starting point of such comprehensive change management could be the implementation of hierarchy of controls, wherever possible.
Featured Image: Road accidents data for 2020