Ahead of G20, India’s road safety challenge

Ahead of G20, India’s road safety challenge

It is high time to remind all global stakeholders to pay special attention to road safety. Individual nations, and the international community at large, seem to realise the urgency of the matter. There is also a case for the G20 to pay attention to the issue.

While the death toll in road crashes in India and several other developing countries continues to be high, the level of public awareness today is greater than ever. This has a lot to do with the untiring and multifaceted approach of governments, civil society organisations and individual road safety warriors, and the incessant support — philosophical and financial — of various international organisations.

The World Bank notes that improving road safety in India is vital to the nation’s health, well-being, and economic growth. The already-deprived sections of society are the most vulnerable to road crashes — they include road users like pedestrians, cyclists, two-wheelers, and unprotected children. Close to 70 per cent of the fatalities on the roads are people belonging to the economically productive section of the population.

Road safety is intrinsically linked with the G20’s main agenda of economic growth and prosperity. However, the issue does not seem to have received headline space on the group’s agenda so far. In 2016, international road safety organisations requested G20 leaders to support the UN goal of halving the death toll on roads by 2030. The proposal, however, did not go much further.

The ongoing events of the G20 under India’s presidency raise fresh hopes of tackling the persisting challenges of road safety. In 2019, India enacted the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 — a powerful modern tool, which, if systematically implemented, would make the country’s roads significantly safer. However, several well-framed public programmes do not give the desired results because their implementation is not systematically monitored and evaluated, and accountability is not fixed.

The Centre and some state governments do have an excellent record in completing development projects, including by making imaginative use of information technology. Even then, the UN goal of halving deaths and serious injuries on roads by 2030 appears difficult. Many of the affected countries, including India, despite their sincere efforts, have not been able to curb the number of road crashes appreciably.

India, with its well-earned recent reputation of getting several things right, can be a harbinger of change. The country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, probably the worst global crisis in recent times, is a good example of its ability to effectively deal with difficult challenges. As a country where road safety is an issue of serious concern, India can initiate conversations and steer the G20’s resources towards collective scrutiny of ideas and practices that can bring meaningful change.

There is a pressing necessity to think afresh and bring about a significant reduction in the number of road crashes. An approach that fixes accountability needs to be drawn up urgently. I propose the following.

The G20 countries can convene a special meeting to formally take note of this grave challenge and deliberate on possible result-oriented solutions.

G20 members with commendable road safety records can partner with some of the countries struggling to tackle this challenge.

The group could institute a road safety fund (G20 RSF) to help countries reduce road crashes significantly. Progress could be evaluated over a six-month cycle and the release of future financial aid should be contingent on the effective utilisation of funds.

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The G20 should urge the countries concerned to frame a plan that sets targets for reducing the number of road accidents. The project should be equipped with adequate resources and given administrative freedom without compromising on accountability.

The member countries should urgently consider the privatisation of road safety systems in accident-prone areas and highways by countries that receive the G20 RSF. These areas could be called the Zones of Excellence in Road Safety (ZoEs) and formally notified as such. It should be incumbent on the concessionaire to develop all requisite road safety conditions in the ZoEs, especially in aspects related to the four Es — education, engineering, enforcement and emergency. The ZoEs could serve as models for other areas.

One hopes that the G20 under India’s presidency will frame a road safety action-plan, and agree upon developing an institutional mechanism for this purpose. Such an approach could make the roads of large parts of low- and middle-income countries safer. This would add a feather in the cap of the current G20’s theme of “One Earth, One Family, One Future”.

The writer is Member, National Road Safety Council

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