About one-third of road accident victims during lockdown are migrants: NGO

Nearly a third of road accidents to have taken place during the lockdown prompted by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in India have claimed the lives of migrant workers walking back home, according to data collected by Save Life Foundation. India recorded about 600 road crashes in the first two phases of the lockdown, said the data compiled for the period from March 24 (the day India announced the lockdown) till May 3 (the day the second phase of the curbs ended). The highest number of road accidents took place in Punjab (42), followed by Kerala (26) and Delhi (18).

Of the total 137 victims in this period, 42 were migrants, 78 were “driving during the lockdown”, and 13 were essential workers. Nine states, namely Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, recorded over 100 of these fatalities. “While there has been a dip in the absolute number of road crash fatalities during lockdown due to suspension of public transport and general mobility, the rate of deaths in road crashes has remained unchanged, highlighting how unsafe Indian roads are even when the majority of the country has been under restrictions,” said the NGO, which works to ensure road safety practices.

“At least 580 crashes, resulting in 137 deaths have taken place over the last 41 days,” Piyush Tewari, who founded the Save Life Foundation, said. “This is the minimum number as cases with single fatalities may not have been documented properly.” According to Tewari, while the number of fatalities was lower, the crash severity rate of the accidents has remained constant. “Under normal circumstances, we would have seen approximately 16,000 deaths from around 65,000 crashes. The crash severity ratio, around 1:4, comes down to the same as the cases at present.”

“The crash severity ratio staying constant just tells us how dangerous the roads are,” Tewari said. Vijay Chibber, a former secretary in the ministry of road transport and highways, said a host of factors plays out in a road accident. “The crash severity proportion stays about the same if there are defects in road engineering, or if visibility is not good in an area,” Chibber said. “Such a road will remain accident-prone whether 50,000 vehicles or 30,000 cars are driving on it.”

“Engineering defects can induce accident as can bad drivers,” Chibber added. “While the volume of traffic may have fallen during lockdown, other factors may have remained constant.” These factors, said Chibber, are considered “black spots”. “Accidents during the lockdown can be an indication of a poor quality of vehicles, drivers and of roads.” “Our highways are not access controlled, migrants walking on the roads or on a cycle may not be visible, especially at dawn or dusk.

Hordes of people walking home may have aggravated the situation causing the accidents,” said Chibber. Road accidents claimed nearly 150,000 lives, according to the ministry of road transport and highways data for 2018. India is a signatory to the United Nation’s Brasilia Declaration with the target of reducing road fatalities by 50% by 2020.

On March 16, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari said in the Rajya Sabha accidents across the country have reduced by nearly 10% ever since the Motor Vehicles Act was amended in 2019.

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