By Vishnu Sudarsan and Kartikeya GS
Murder by the Numbers
Consider the following statistics: 360 people die from road accidents every day in India, a full 10% of the global total. During the year 2011, the total number of person killed in road accidents were 142,492 out of which 12,867 (9%) were pedestrians.. As of 2007, the rate of deaths from road accidents per 100,000 of the population was 16.8% in India. The Working Group on Road Accidents, Injury Prevention and Control set up by the Planning Commission in the year 2000 had assessed the social cost of road accidents in India at Rs. 55,000 crores which constituted about 3% of the GDP of the country in the year 1999-2000. These statistics present a rather harrowing picture of the state of affairs. Yet, the sad truth is that these regularly occurring road accidents attract less media attention than other, less frequent but more unusual types of tragedies.
(Source: Report of the Committee on Road Safety and Traffic Management)
In 2005, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India (“MoRTH”) constituted the Committee on Road Safety and Traffic Management (“Committee”) to, inter alia, make proposals for a national level road safety organization and recommend the functions and responsibilities of the proposed organization. The Committee defined road safety as a multi-sectoral and multidimensional issue that incorporates the development and management of road infrastructure, provision of safer vehicles, legislation and law enforcement, mobility planning, provision of health and hospital services, child safety, urban land use planning, etc.
The Institutional and Regulatory Set-up
Road safety is currently dealt with at both central and state levels. At the central level, MoRTH is the administrative ministry responsible for road safety efforts in the country. The National Road Safety Council, headed by the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, is the apex advisory body on road safety. The Transport Development Corporation is a high level forum for the formulation of common policies for the development of road transport. The National Crime Records Bureau also plays a major role in the collection and maintenance of data on road accidents, injuries and fatalities. The National Highways Authority of India is responsible for deploying ambulance services and highway patrolling to provide medical care for accident victims.
At the state level, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 requires that a road safety council be constituted under the Minister responsible for transport. Other institutions concerned with road safety include the Indian Roads Congress, which lays down standards and guidelines for road and bridge engineering including road safety, and the Central Road Research Institute, which carries out research and development in the field of road, road safety and transportation. The National Institute for Training of Highway Engineers organizes training programmes for highway engineers of Central/State Governments, consultants and contractors on all areas relating to roads and road transport, including road safety.
The primary legislation vis-à-vis road safety is the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 along with the associated rules notified thereunder. Officers responsible for safety on the national highways have been designated under the provisions of the National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act, 2002.
In reviewing and assessing the then extant institutional and regulatory set-up for road safety in India, the Committee came to the following conclusions:
(a) the existing institutional set-up is ill-equipped to deal with increasing traffic or adopt the technical and technological advancements that will promote road safety;
(b) there is no single agency responsible for dealing with the range of problems associated with road safety.
(c) there is also no effective mechanism for coordinating the activities of the different agencies dealing with road safety;
(d) road safety is only a peripheral duty of the key ministries and public sector agencies – it is not a priority area in their agenda; and
(e) the National Road Safety Council has inadequate statutory backing, budgetary resources or the mandate to effectively execute road safety plans.
Recommendations of the Committee
The Committee recommended the formulation of a national policy for road safety and the constitution of a national road safety agency, the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board. It was recommended that this agency be established through a specific enabling Parliamentary legislation which would clearly spell out the objectives, functions, structure, processes and powers of the agency. This agency would be an arm of the MoRTH and would aid and advise the MoRTH on all matters relating to road safety. The functions of the agency would be to, inter alia,
(a) set the safety standards for design, construction and operation of national highways.
(b) set the standards for the safety features of all mechanically propelled vehicles.
(c) identify subjects and institutions (and create linkages between such institutions) for research in different areas of road safety.
(d) lay down guidelines for establishing and upgrading trauma care systems at all levels.
In furtherance of these recommendations, The National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board Bill, 2010 (“Bill”) was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 4, 2010. The Bill establishes a National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board for the development and regulation of road safety, traffic management system and safety standards in highway design and construction. The functions of the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board include:
(a) recommending standards for:
(i) design, construction and maintenance of national highways;
(ii) trauma and para-medical facilities for traffic related injuries on the national highway;
(iii) manufacture of mechanically propelled vehicles and other types of vehicles;
(iv) vehicular traffic on the national highways (speed lanes, right of way).
(b) conducting safety audits to monitor compliance with the standards notified by the central government.
(c) recommending minimum conditions of safety such as specifying the maximum load bearing and capacity limits.
(d) conducting research on road safety and management.
(e) establishing procedures for data collection.
Non-conformity to the standards notified by the Government is punishable by the levy of a penalty.
National Road Safety Policy
However, the Bill has not been passed by the Parliament. The Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture found the Bill to be unsatisfactory and recommended that the Bill be withdrawn and that the government come out with a comprehensive legislation that addresses the entire gamut of road safety.
Instead, based on another recommendation of the Committee, the MoRTH has proposed adoption of a National Road Safety Policy (“Policy”) which proposal received the assent of the Union Cabinet in 2010. This Policy sets out the following ten-point agenda to be undertaken by the Government:
(a) raising awareness about road safety issues.
(b) establishing a road safety information database.
(c) ensuring safer road infrastructure.
(d) ensuring safer drivers and vehicles.
(e) taking measures for securing the safety of vulnerable road users
(f) undertaking training and education in road safety.
(g) enforcing laws on safety.
(h) ensuring emergency medical services for road accidents.
(i) encouraging activity in programmes of road safety research.
(j) strengthening the enabling legal, institutional and financial environment for road safety.
The Government has established a dedicated agency, the National Road Safety Board, in order to oversee the issues related to road safety and evolve effective strategies for implementation of the Policy.
While the Policy is a welcome step towards creating an enabling framework for road-safety, it stops well short of the concrete steps required for effectively addressing the issue. The constitution of a dedicated agency for overseeing road-safety issues is laudable, but the fact remains that the National Road Safety Board is a non-statutory body with no defined powers for enforcement of levying penalties, thereby hobbling its effectiveness. Further, the Policy itself is an outline of objectives to be achieved while setting out no means by which these outcomes are to be achieved.
This leaves much to be desired. Perhaps the most optimal manner would be to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee and enact a dedicated national level legislation that would address the issue of road safety while also establishing the statutory/regulatory set up necessary for the implementation-process. The Bill, which would be a suitable response to these needs, is not without its shares of peccadilloes – the issue of multiplicity of agencies is not addressed as the Bill does not do away with the existing agencies and only adds yet another institution to the existing ones. Further, the agency established by the Bill is recommendatory in character and does not have intrinsic regulatory functions.
Conclusion: The Teething Process
Thus, it can be seen that there is a pressing need to overhaul the regime and create a wide-ranging regulatory framework that is not merely recommendatory but is empowered to regulate and effectively enforce the relevant regulations. A single statutory agency should be tasked with administering and regulating issues relating to road safety. Such an agency should be equipped with adequate resources and be made publicly accountable.
In addition to this, appropriate road safety targets should be periodically set and national road safety plans should be formulated to achieve these targets. Further, the creation of safety advocacy groups should be actively supported. As befitting its complex nature, there should be a multi-disciplinary approach to road safety. In the ultimate analysis, a regulatory framework with a statutory basis which has the teeth to ensure effective implementation of road safety norms is the need of the hour.
Vishnu Sudarsan (pictured ) is a Partner and Kartikeya GS is an Associate with JSA.
 Which was then the Ministry of Shipping Road Transport & Highways.