Effective speed management critical in India to reduce road crash fatalities

Speeding accounts for over 71% of crash-related fatalities on Indian roads. Continuous monitoring and focussed action are a must.

Four hundred and twenty people continue to lose their lives on Indian roads every single day. In 2022, India recorded 4.43 lakh road crashes, resulting in the death of 1.63 lakh people. Vulnerable road-users like pedestrians, bicyclists and two-wheelers riders comprised 67% of the deceased. Road crashes also pose an economic burden, costing the exchequer 3.14% of India’s GDP annually. 

These figures underscore the urgent need for effective interventions, aligned with global good practices. Sweden’s Vision Zero road safety policy, adopted in 1997, focussed on modifying infrastructure to protect road users from unacceptable levels of risk and led to a reduction in their road fatalities between 2002 to 2013. 

Read more: Road accident: What should you do?

Pre-liberalisation India had a significantly lower vehicle population thus road safety was not a pressing priority (Figure 1). Legislation primarily regulated vehicle registration, licensing and technical specifications. Post-liberalisation, India experienced a dramatic rise in the number of vehicles with economic growth, urbanisation, policy changes and shifts in societal norms. Between 1951 and 2020, the number of registered vehicles in India soared from 0.3 million to 326.3 million.  

As the vehicles grew, so did the road traffic fatalities  — despite having just 1% of the world’s vehicles.

Graph of number of vehicles registered in India versus number of road fatalities in India.
1. Number of registered vehicles in India 
Source: Number of Vehicles: Road Transport Yearbook (2017-18 and 2018-19), MoRTH;
Road Fatalities: Road Accidents in India, MoRTH. Visualization by Nileena. S/WRI India.
Graph of road safety actions
Figure 2: Road safety actions in India
Source: Road Fatalities 1999-2000: Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB); Road Fatalities 2001-2022: Road Accidents in India, MoRTH
Visualization by Nileena. S/WRI India.

Road safety measures in India

However, measures have been taken to improve road safety in India. India’s legislative journey to improve road safety began in 1994 when the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways of India (MoRTH) mandated front seatbelt installation, with compulsory usage enforced in 1999.

In 2002, the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) mandated installation and usage of seatbelts for all four-wheeler seats. In 2005, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure directed MoRTH to create a Directorate of Road Safety and Traffic Management and amend the traffic laws as required. 

The subsequent appointment of the S. Sundar committee was critical in initiating discussions that spotlighted road safety as a public health issue. Following the recommendations of the Sundar committee report published in 2007, MoRTH framed the National Road Safety Policy, approved in 2010.

In 2014, Public Interest Litigations led the Supreme Court to establish a Committee on Road Safety, which mandated states to enact road safety policies, establish safety councils and funds. The 2019 MVA amendment was a landmark moment in our country’s effort towards enhanced road-user safety. It increased penalties, introduced compulsory insurance, a National Road Safety Board and protection for good Samaritans. However, its adoption by states is limited.

Taking action

Despite all these efforts, in the previous decade, India’s share in global road traffic fatalities surged from 11% to 13%, with the number of fatalities escalating from 1.34 lakh in 2010 to 1.54 lakh in 2021, in contrast to a 5% reduction in road fatalities worldwide. Efforts are ongoing but lag behind the UN target to halve road fatalities by 2030. This necessitates a comprehensive and holistic re-evaluation of our approach, emphasising evidence-based solutions and targeted interventions.  

When even the best of the measures have not successfully bent the curve, what more can be done? Road safety is and must be seen as a perennial project, therefore needing perennial action. Thankfully our laws allow for that. 

Importance of speed management

While efficient enforcement, safer design and post-crash care are vital, strategic actions like speed management can significantly reduce fatalities, since most crashes turn into  fatalities at high speeds. In 2022, India saw a 9.4% rise in road fatalities.

Speeding is consistently the leading cause of fatalities, accounting for over 71% of these deaths. Contrary to popular perception, fatal crashes due to speeding aren’t limited to highways. Over-speeding caused 65.5% of the road traffic fatalities in 50 Indian cities with populations exceeding one million. 

Challenges in implementation

Speed management typically relies on posted speed limits to inform driver behaviour, with violators penalised under the MVA. However, much of India’s road network lacks clear speed limits and historically, adherence has been poor.

Enforcement is primarily through police or Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, more common in cities and on expressways. While ANPR cameras act as a deterrent, their influence is limited to their location, leading to overcompensation in other areas.

This problem extends to cities, where drivers, frustrated by traffic, overspeed in relatively empty stretches. City streets are not mere conduits; they are bustling with pedestrians, businesses and celebrations, making over-speeding a grave risk.

Current speed management efforts are limited by the lack of widespread camera installation and an understaffed traffic police, highlighting the need for strategic action to address this critical issue.

Use of technology

It is widely agreed that it’s crucial to utilise technology to manage speeding vehicles effectively. However, we must ask the right questions to leverage technology optimally. Developing and deploying technology to assess speeds accurately is essential.

Continuous speed assessment data, reported daily, weekly and monthly, will spur focussed action, including increased enforcement, engineering measures and communication. This approach will also enhance transparency and accountability.

It is becoming increasingly clear that managing speed is paramount to ensuring safer roads for all. Just as past initiatives have shaped the landscape of road safety, the emphasis on speed management reflects a natural progression towards more holistic and data-driven approaches.

By integrating historical learnings with contemporary challenges, India can forge ahead in its journey towards a safer road transport system where every journey is safe and every life is valued.

Key takeaways

  • India witnesses a staggering number of road fatalities, with 420 people losing their lives daily on Indian roads.
  • Despite legislative efforts and initiatives, India’s share in global road traffic fatalities has increased from 11% to 13% in the past decade.
  • Speeding is a significant contributor to road fatalities in India, accounting for over 71% of these deaths and is not limited to highways.
  • Speed management efforts in India are hindered by lack of clear speed limits, poor adherence and limited enforcement. 
  • Utilising technology for accurate speed assessment, continuous monitoring, and focussed action is crucial to effectively manage speeding vehicles and ensure safer roads for all.
  • Effective speed management requires timely reports on actual speeds on major corridors and using AI. These reports can help identify problems and raise tickets for relevant enforcement or implementation agencies to take evidence-based, targeted action.

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