Road accidents : Prevention and Safety

Dr Tasaduq Hussain Itoo
Road accidents are emerging as a serious issue of public health concern. However, road deaths and injuries are preventable, provided effective road safety interventions are in place and a proper scientific system approach to road safety is ensured to tackle the problem of rising epidemic of road accidents. This very approach should address the traffic system as a whole and look into interactions between vehicle, road users, and road infrastructure to identify final solution.
The first focus should be on vehicle conditioning. Well-maintained vehicles with good breaks, lighting, tyres etc. shall significantly reduce accidents. Older vehicles and highly polluting vehicles should be phased out. Vehicles should be provided with seat belts and other necessary safety provisions including airbags. As per the policy statement of the Road Safety Policy, the Government should take steps to ensure that safety features are built in at the stage of design, manufacture, usage, operation and maintenance of both motorized and non-motorized vehicles in order to minimize adverse safety and environmental effects of vehicle operation on road users (including pedestrians and bicyclists) and infrastructure.
Next focus should be on road conditioning. Roads should be well maintained with frequent relaying of road surfaces and markings of road safety signs. Providing proper footpaths for pedestrians and pedestrian crossings at intersections, separate lanes for slow-moving and fast-moving vehicles – is crucial. Moreover, road junctions should be wide and well lit so that visibility is good. As per the Road Safety Policy, the design and construction of all road facilities (rural and urban) should take into account the needs of non-motorized transport and the vulnerable and physically challenged in an appropriate manner. The Government should seek to disseminate best practices in this regard to town planners, architects, and highway and traffic engineers. Ensuring safer road infrastructure, measures should be taken to review standards pertaining to safety in the design of rural and urban roads and bring them in consonance with international best practices keeping in view Indian traffic conditions.
Drivers have an important role to play in significantly reducing the road accidents. There is a need to strengthen the system of driver licensing and training to improve the competence and capability of drivers. All drivers should be properly trained and educated about traffic rules and should posses a valid driving license –the issuance of which should be strictly based on the minimum proficiency acquired by the learners from designated driving schools. Moreover, periodic medical check-up particularly of vision and hearing for the drivers – should be prioritized.
Strict rules should be made and implemented for compulsory wearing of helmets by two wheelers and seat belts by four wheelers; avoiding heroic rash driving; ensuring patience while driving; avoiding use of mobile phones while driving; enforcing strict action on drunk driving; besides enforcement of traffic rules by the concerned authorities strictly; removal of encroachments on footpath and road margins; and preventing haphazard parking of vehicles on busy roads and intersections to ensure free flow of traffic — must be ensured. There is a dire need to strengthen and improve the quality of enforcement in order to ensure effective and uniform implementation of safety laws.
With regard to the management of accident victims, the initial hours post – accident should be given crucial importance — like “critical 4 min” and “golden hour” — one of the most common causes of a road accident death is due to loss of oxygen supply. This is mostly caused by a blocked airway. Normally it takes less than 4 min for a blocked airway to cause death. The “golden hour” — the first hour after the trauma is called the “golden hour.”. If proper first aid is given, road accident victims have a greater chance of survival and a reduction in the severity of their injuries.
Therefore, provision of medical care/first aid care facilities on highways and busy roads; provision of ambulances and trained health personnel in shifting and transporting the injured person to nearby hospitals for treatment — should be given priority. Considering the policy statement of Road Safety Policy, emergency medical services should be provided to ensure that all persons involved in road accidents benefit from speedy and effective trauma care and management. The essential functions of such a service should include the provision of rescue operation and administration of first aid at the site of an accident and the transport of the victim from accident site to nearby hospital. Trauma care centers alongside the National Highways, state highways including local highways should be adequately equipped to provide for trauma care and rehabilitation.
Moreover, awareness programs should be conducted among all sections of the society to treat accident victims with sympathy and without fear so that the morbidity and mortality can be reduced. As per the policy statement of Road Safety Policy, road safety knowledge and awareness should be created amongst the population through education, training and publicity campaigns. Road safety education should also focus on school children and college going students, while road safety publicity campaigns should be used to propagate good road safety practices among the community. There is a need to encourage all professionals associated with road design, road construction, road network management, traffic management and law enforcement to attain adequate knowledge of road safety issues.
Focusing more on the policy statement of Road Safety Policy — increased activity in programmes of road safety research by identifying priority areas, funding research in those areas adequately and establishing centers of excellence in research and academic institutions — should be prioritized. The Government should facilitate dissemination of the result of research and identified examples of good practices through publication, training, conferences, workshops and websites.
More to say, appropriate measures should be taken to ensure that the required legal, institutional and financial environment for road safety is further strengthened and a mechanism for effective coordination of various stakeholders is put in place. The reforms in these areas should provide for the active and extensive participation of the community at large, of the private sector, academia and NGOs.
A multi-disciplinary approach shall effectively reduce the incidence of road accidents and reduction in injuries and deaths on the roads. Effective community participation also plays a key role in the prevention of road accidents. Everybody should be concerned and should work toward achieving a safe road travel so that road accidents should be minimized to least extent as possible. Enhancing the efforts to promote awareness about the various aspects of road safety, the social and economic implications of road accidents and what needs to be done to curb the rising epidemic of road accidents. Moreover, governments, international agencies, civil society organizations, and private companies etc have an important role to play in launching campaigns for road safety and accident prevention.