India’s road safety crisis calls for prioritizing drivers training

Arun Kumar Shrivastav
Recent transporters’ strike against the newly-introduced legal provisions that provide for a 10-year jail term for drivers who don’t take accident victims to the hospital, leading to the death of the victims, throws the spotlight on an issue of immense significance. India has a vast network of well-developed highways and roads and it’s growing. The number of vehicles is also growing at a significant pace. India spends a huge amount of money on oil bills. India’s need for oil defines its foreign policy.
Ironically, our investments in highways and oil are causing road accidents and deaths. Unfortunately, a sector that sees so much of investments cannot deal with an issue that concerns all of us. For the record, as per the official figure, 1.54 lakh people died in road accidents in 2022. The situation is highly alarming in cities like Delhi, which witnesses over 2000 deaths in road accidents every year. For Mumbai, it is less, but it is still significant.
What is the solution for this menace? Holding drivers responsible for this is not correct.
Drivers are poorly paid and have highly stressful work conditions that need to be addressed urgently. Average drivers in the unorganized Indian transportation sector would earn Rs 20,000 a month. They would be on the job for this paltry sum- driving the vehicle for days, sometimes extending to weeks. Away from family, without proper food and rest, they drive on the highways. Their hard work and hardships keep the economy competitive, allowing the Indian poor and middle class to purchase essential items at affordable costs. The same hardship bus drivers suffer and it ensures that the transportation for people with low incomes remains affordable.
If we look at how people work in developed economies, we realize efficient resources and an enabling environment play a significant role in achieving excellent results in the workplace. If we use this paradigm in the Indian transportation sector, we must provide bus and truck drivers better work conditions and higher wages.
Can we make it a law that no driver should drive for more than six hours before taking a six-hour break? And, can we fix the minimum wages for drivers that allow them to buy decent things for their families – a house, a car, a holiday in a beach resort? Let’s not be harsh to a community that is the backbone of the Indian economy.
Good life and good working conditions for the drivers alone would not be sufficient to stop accidents and deaths on the road. They need technical capability and education to prevent accidents, for which they need special training at regular intervals. Today’s highways and vehicles are designed by top-notch engineers and made with ultra-modern facilities. A poor driver with virtually no education is a complete misfit here! This is an invitation for road accidents. Blaming the driver is barking at the wrong tree.
When we can check pollution under control certificates and fine the drivers along the highways, we also need to check whether the driver has attended a training program on safe driving in the last three months.
Top brains at institutions like at institutions like IIT and IIM should prepare these training programs. If we want improvement on the ground, we must spend money on training and upskilling.
Right now, the business model in the transportation sector is geared toward maximum profit for transport owners, who use liberal bank loan policies to buy vehicles, employ drivers at meagre pay, and keep the business profitable by making compromises at all levels. It includes paying bribes to transport department officials and traffic police personnel, who, too, suffer from low self-esteem under poor working conditions.
While new laws to replace the old colonial laws are undoubtedly necessary, our sympathy should be with the poor and hard-working citizens who are giving their best even though, in return, they might be getting much less than what they deserve.
As India moves towards new goals in progress and advancement, we must recognize that these goals can be achieved by improving the value of what we offer, not increasing the quantity. We need to produce goods that can be sold for higher prices, not products sold for discount due to poor quality. And this is possible only when we improve and refine the skills of our workforce.
Whether for drivers or transport and traffic police officials, advanced and modern training is the key to their success and performance. The system must make them proud of their jobs. Only then can they give their best. For example, road safety campaigns now focus on giving drivers more instructions and a bigger to-do list rather than clear incentives for better work. Same for transport department officials and traffic police. All of them need regular and high-quality training to improve their performance. (IPA)