Driving on roads is dangerous. The ubiquitous presence of good luck charms and religious icons in vehicles is a phenomenon not only exclusive to India but is practised all around the world, pointing unequivocally to the risk that comes with the simple act of being on the road. In India, one serious road accident occurs every minute and 16 people die in road accidents every hour – 377 people are lost every day – which is equivalent of the number of people who would die in a jumbo jet crash. In 2016 alone, the total number of road accidents was 4,80,652 causing injuries to 4,94,624 persons and claiming 1,50,785 lives in the country (Transport Research Wing of the Ministry of Road Transports and Highways). Moreover, 20 children under the age of 14 die every day in road accidents in the country. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), road traffic crashes are predicted to become the seventh leading cause of death by 2030. Yet the dearth of attention on road safety from the government and in the public discourse is simply astounding.
Interestingly, infrastructural issues such as poorly constructed roads or potholes are not the top-ranking causes of road accidents, even though they still rank as relevant causal factors. World over, one of the biggest factor associated with road accidents is “cognitive errors” and the scientific community has over the years concluded that unfortunately, human beings shall always remain prone to making poor judgements as our brains are not wholly equipped to gauge speed, distance, and size of objects precisely even under the best of conditions and that we over-estimate our control over the environment (this phenomenon is known as the “Lake Woebegone Effect”).
Nearly half of those dying on the world’s roads are “vulnerable road users”: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists and are therefore likely to come from middle to low-income backgrounds. Yet, for the sustenance of the economic life road transportation is necessary. So, the question arises, “what is to be done to avoid road accidents?”
In the longer run, technology has the answer to this problem as scientists are work on predictive models and complex algorithms that could literally make vehicles “talk” or coordinate with each other and the environment to avoid accidents. However, until these technologies are fully developed and commercialized, the biggest answer on the radar to prevent road accidents is believed to be the widespread use of “helmets”. In India, out of a total of 52,500 two-wheeler riders killed in road accidents during the calendar year 2016 around 10,135 two-wheeler riders were reported to be not wearing helmets. Wearing a motorcycle helmet correctly can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%.
In our country, the greatest number of road accidents take place in the cities of Delhi, Chennai, Jaipur, Bengaluru, and Mumbai in that order. Specifically, two-wheelers account for 25% of total road crash deaths. It is worth noting that about three quarters (73%) of all road traffic deaths in our country occur among young males under the age of 25 years who are almost 3 times as likely to be killed in a road traffic crash as young females. Considering that a majority of youth in our nation use two-wheelers, it becomes imperative that we spread mass awareness in using helmets so that we do not lose the multitudes of youth who are the harbingers of our nation’s progress, to fatal accidents and injuries.
It is in this spirit that I implore everyone in this nation, especially the sisters who will celebrate the festival of Raksha Bandhan this year to join our movement of “Gift a Helmet” through #Sisters4Change and gift helmets to their brothers to shield them from road accidents in exchange for the promise that they seek from their brothers to be their protectors.