Corporates and Road Safety in India- Blazing the Trail

Although Government plays an essential role in addressing the road safety concerns, the involvement of private sector can further aid its efforts to make Indian roads safe and secure for citizens.

Accidents do not happen, but are caused, is a blatant reality and a pandemic especially in context of Indian roads. Going by core statistics, 1.25 million people are killed in traffic accidents every year. Over 13 lakh people have died in road crashes and 50 lakh have been seriously injured in last decade. In the year 2017 itself, road crashes resulted in 1.51 lakh deaths in India alone and there is a death every 3 minutes on Indian roads which costs around 3 per cent of our GDP. The biggest culprits are our national highways, which although constitute 2 per cent of road network in our country but claim a lion’s share of 30 per cent of total road accidents and 35 per cent of deaths from those accidents in India.

Although Government plays an essential role in addressing the road safety concerns, the involvement of private sector can further aid its efforts to make Indian roads safe and secure for citizens. Talking about the aplenty attributing factors to such high number of road fatalities and casualties in India, Amit Saha, Lead, FICCI Sub-Committee on Road Safety and Chief Sustainability Officer, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Ltd responds, “Other than the sheer density of people on roads in vehicles of all forms and sizes, it is the gross disregard towards traffic rules and lack of safety as a value that has put India in dubious distinction of being the highest road fatality country.”

Tuhin A. Sinha, Special Initiatives Advisor to Mr. Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport and Highways attributes the road fatalities to a number of factors, he elucidates, “More than 75 per cent of the accidents are due to human error, attributing factors being rash driving, over speeding, use of mobile phone while driving and drunken driving. The fact that Indian roads have seen a vehicular growth of 10-11 per cent every year in the last decade or so, turns up as a big contributing factor. Indian roads are over-burdened. While flyovers and alternate transport is being developed at breakneck speed, it will take some time before the problem is combatted conclusively.”

Highlighting the role private sector can play in ensuring road safety standards in India, Saha maintains, “Corporates follow higher standards of Safety and that results in stronger processes for employees who undertake innovation both in technology and safety monitoring. Most corporates have similar systems to train and monitor their fleet. Thus, when Corporates come together, their synergy can bring about massive improvement. Once a critical mass of safe drivers are achieved – others could become converts.”

Despite concrete laws and penalties levied on breaking road rules, the number of traffic accidents is increasing every day in India and private sector wields immense power and means to bring in about the desired change. Articulating the same, Ramashankar Pandey, Managing Director, Hella India Lighting Ltd. implies, “Corporates can sensitize stake holders through awareness and education on use of genuine parts to prevent road accidents. Stakeholders need to understand that substandard parts also contribute to accidents. Promoting safe driving practices both at the employee and organisation level through seminars, conferences, trainings, road shows, workshops etc., are a few initiatives that corporates can  actively engage in. Other than this, tie up with NGOs, setting up traffic training institutes along with certified driving schools are also an effort put by us for the welfare of the society and citizens on road at large.”

Piyush Tewari, Founder & CEO, SaveLIFE Foundation says, “Four key reasons for such high number of road crash fatalities in India are bad road-user behaviour, flawed road design and engineering, weak enforcement of traffic laws and lack of rapid trauma care. Road safety is a multi-pronged issue, the problem gets exacerbated when all these factors overlap and lead to a systemic failure to provide safe mobility. For Instance, someone who gets a license without proper training, should not be allowed to drive. However due to a fractured licensing system, bad road users are rampant and coupled with shoddy road construction and weak enforcement, the system gets built in a way that safety is sidelined.”

Tewari’s foundation adopted Mumbai-Pune highway, one of the deadliest highways in the country in 2016 as a part of its evidence based approach and considerably brought down the casualties on this highway, elaborating on the approach adopted by SaveLife Foundation, he states, “The Zero Fatality Corridor Project, initiated by SaveLIFE Foundation in collaboration with Maharashtra State Road Corporation (MSRDC) and Mahindra & Mahindra in 2016 is a pioneering attempt at reducing the number of road accident deaths on the MPEW from an annual average of 135 to 0 by 2021. The project adopts a 360 degree approach through interventions across the 5Es of Road Safety- Enactment, Engineering, Enforcement, Emergency Care and Engagement. The project aims to create a replicable sustainable model that can be adopted across all the expressways in the country.”

He further says, “The interventions have yielded a positive impact with a 30 per cent reduction in road crash deaths in 2017 as compared to 2016. 46 fewer lives were lost in the year 2017 compared to 2016, making it the sharpest decline in road crash deaths on the expressway.”

Although, the Good Samaritan Law which insulates those who help people injured in road accidents from any kind of legal or procedural hassles is there but awareness is the issue, highlighting what hinders its proper implementation and what needs to be done, Tewari comments, “The Good Samaritan Law led to a paradigm shift. But, despite, the transformative nature of this law, most people are unaware about it. What we need is mass awareness at the very grassroot level. District Magistrates and Collectors must ensure that people in their jurisdictions are aware of this essential right. At the same time, a grievance redressal system needs to be established to ensure proper implementation of the law. Only then will people get the confidence that this law aims to build in them to save lives.”

Pandey too conveys, “The purpose of this law was to provide legal protection to bystanders who come to aid the victims of road crashes. However, due to lack of knowledge about the law, the citizens are still sceptical of helping the road accident victims for the fear of being involved in legal proceedings. Also, insufficient training on Basic Life Support (BLS) and Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) only adds to the misery. Corporates can play a vital role in disseminating information about the law, informing the legal guidelines related to it and take the success stories to the masses.”

As for the public awareness programmes should be undertaken by the Government in conjunction with foundations and corporates to make people aware of the basic laws and emergency drills, affirming the same Tewari avers, “Bystanders can play a game-changing role in saving lives of injured victims and they must be trained and encouraged to do so. Awareness programs on road safety, and related rights and responsibilities too must start at the school level itself.”

Considering the fact that road accidents is among the top 10 killers in India and arguably the one cause of death easiest to reverse and requires a concerted action on several fronts – auto manufacturers equipping all vehicles with the minimum safety features mandatory in their own home countries, urban planners designing roads and highways with intelligence, driving license issuing authorities becoming corruption-free and the police being strict with enforcement. 

Also, corporates can a play a major role in road safety, should they include it as an important part of their CSR activities. Abanti Sankaranarayanan, Chief Strategy and Corporate Affairs Officer, Diageo India advocates a greater road safety CSR drive by corporates. Talking about the initiatives taken by Diageo, he says, “In India, through our flagship programme, ‘Road to Safety’, over the past 4 years Diageo India is making a significant impact in bringing road safety into public discourse and catalysing road safety experts, Governments, educators and civil society to take cognisance of, and address, critical aspects of road safety.”

Meanwhile, Prabhjeet Singh, Regional General Manager, Uber India & South Asia talks about a greater role for road safety efforts which are aligned towards creating shared value and are not restricted to just CSR. In a joint initiative, Uber has partnered with MoRTH (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways) to make roads safer under which Uber has helped develop learning aids on road safety for budding drivers enrolled in over 200 driving schools including the Government’s Driver Training Institutes (DTIs) across the country. Singh says, “We have provided free medical check-ups to a number of drivers and have also collaborated with traffic and local police across cities from time to time. For example, to further enhance the safety measures for women riders, Uber has recently joined hands with Delhi Police and Kolkata Police to integrate their respective women safety applications - Himmat and Bondhu, within Uber.”

In its bid to curb road accidents, Uber has launched an initiative called UberBADD (Bars Against Drunk Driving) in cities like Kolkata and Pune where it has set up kiosks at bars and restaurants so people would refrain from driving under influence. 

Various innovative transport alternatives that can drive the smart and safe cities of present and future in India can also be envisaged and technology plays a crucial role in ensuring safety on Indian roads. Laying importance on the same, Sunil Gupta, Managing Director and CEO, Avis India avows, “Leveraging technology to improve road safety should be of paramount importance for transport authorities, with an ever-increasing traffic in cities nowadays, devices like a LIDAR Gun, Speed Indication Display, LED message signs boards should be introduced pan India to avoid over speeding and to promote road safety. Most of them have been introduced in some parts of India but this should be rolled out everywhere.”

Technology can actually help Indian cities leapfrog to world class, safe and smart mobility solutions. Mooting on what needs to be done regarding this, Singh emphasizes, “First, we need to acknowledge our cities are changing fast and planning has to get a lot more data-based. Second, it is important to use technology to fill gaps in our understanding of our cities. Third, complementing public transport and solving last mile connectivity issue has been made easier, simpler and available at your fingertips with technology that backs ridesharing. This technology also makes the rides safer. Finally, the key is to replace as many private cars with shared vehicles.”

Technology driven solutions such as big data, machine learning and simulations can identify unsafe intersections, mitigate risks and address the shortcomings of transport systems as well thereby, enabling an analysis of public transportation routes. Hubert Larenaudie, President- Asia Pacific, Unity Technologies too sees technologies like Machine learning and big data playing a big role in ensuring safe intersections and roads, “While the technology still has a long way to go, emerging tech like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and big data have been immensely successful for simulations, which can identify unsafe intersections and mitigate risks before real accidents happen. For example, with AI, a comprehensive view of a driver’s experience can be obtained with the help of vehicle data processed from multiple data streams, which anticipates dangerous intersections. This data is processed using machine learning algorithms, distinguishing both typical and abnormal behaviors of vehicles around specific areas on the roads.”

Mentioning the use of user-friendly technologies, Saha professes, “Simple technology like a GPS that we use in Google maps are already being used by industry/fleet operators to monitor shipments/people. Safety is monitored through the same system to know if a truck driver is breaking traffic rules – remotely. Higher speeds, rash driving. Not taking breaks in long drive can be easily monitored using technology.”

Saha also talks about a Google algorithm on how rash a driver is and how that can be linked to one’s Aadhar and insurance, elaborating on this interesting point, he says, “Imagine if we just use Google data from the maps people use going from point A to Point B to build a Rashness Indicator and start profiling drivers. Such an Indicator could not only be used to monitor why some routes allow drivers be rash it could provide a personal rashness indicator that could be insurance companies to moderate the premiums – thus providing a serious deterrent to drivers. Higher lane speeds on routes with multiple crossing coupled with high rashness road index – could become a recipe for disaster.”

User Data from Google Maps can even provide a good feedback to NHAI to design better roads, turns, intersections and segregation of current multimodal vehicles as such mix up creates more accidents.  

And, given the pareto of black spots on roads in India, technology can help address this grave issue at best. Saha suggests, “If the Black spots have been found by Police, MORTH and RTOs – they should be investigated for issues in road infrastructure, road furniture and open intersections. All such hardware issues should be solved on priority by combined stake holder effort. Every accident on such black spot should be recreated / revisualised using technology to undertake a deep learning of underlying causes which may be common to many such accidents. A lot of consideration goes into the design and manufacturing of our lighting solutions. Road conditions and its associated environment is one of them. Indian road conditions are even more challenging due to our present road infrastructure and mixed road users from trucks to cars to tractors to bikes, cycles and pedestrians in all possible lanes.”

Digital lighting is another marvellous example of how technology can be leveraged to help arrest road casualties in India. Shedding light on how important well-lit roads should be, Pandey propounds, “Digital Lighting or Smart Lighting can offer solutions to some of the specific hazard situations on Indian Roads, though it alone cannot solve all the problems of road safety on our Roads. One obvious problems while driving in dark hours is glare from other vehicular traffic, this can be fully eliminated if we implement a camera assisted smart reflector or modular or digital matrix based front lighting, which blank out light from all possible places where traffic is moving and safeguard eyes of those drivers from light, yet all around having all time high beam lights. This helps the driver to enjoy full visibility, yet does not glare others. It safeguards pedestrians and cyclists also the same way.”

However, Pandey suggests that before we go to digital front lighting, to arrest road deaths in our country, first, we need to work on basic necessary necessities of signalling on our roads. It was found out from the accident statistics that around 37 per cent deaths involve Trucks/CV’s on roads and 200,000 accidents happens at night. Majority of these Trucks/CV’s on Indian roads have been found with grossly inadequate and inaccurate visibility (Lighting & Signalling) devices. It is obvious on our highways that most of the “Stop-Tail-Indicator” signalling lamps do not work at all. One major reason we found was inadequate technology of developing and manufacturing these safety critical products in India which fails it too often, too early.

Our road engineering also pays scant attention to user safety while designing roads and needs immediate attentiveness considering the increasing volume of vehicles in India. Street geometry, traffic cones, indicative paints, temporal urban design strategies especially and improving pedestrian experience at busy intersections is what is needed.

Also, making road safety a mass movement by organizing awareness programmes at schools and colleges is key and should be an enlightened self-interest for corporates and authorities alike. Furthermore, road safety should be introduced as a formal education curriculum in schools. As discipline is not something that is inculcated in Indians, corporates can enforce stricter rules and punishments for employees since they have better discipline and implementation ability at their community levels. 

Elaborating further on this Sinha affirms, “It is already happening across the country with the corporates and the NGOs playing a big part it. The decision to introduce a chapter on road safety in the NCERT books is also a big change.”

First-aid training in these programmes should be paramount and children at school and college level must be taught to administer basic medical aid in case of an accident on road till the final help arrives. Every person should know how to save a life in case of an emergency on road. 

Moreover, a lot needs to be done on legislative and regulatory level to enforce the laws at lower levels as they have a cascading effect on high level laws. Intangible benefits of adherence should be made a culture to bring about the important changes. 

Public interest initiatives like playing a 2 minute video on road safety in theatres mandatorily just like tobacco advertisements can bring about the desired cultural change in mindsets. Bringing movie stars and sports personalities as brand ambassadors can bring a lot of awareness as well. 

With all these propositions, what is the way forward like for road safety in India?

Singh suggests, “It is needless to say that road safety is the need of the hour. While, the Government is taking concrete measures, this requires efforts from all stakeholders, including state governments, traffic authorities, corporates and individuals. Technology will have to play a key role in accelerating this solution.”

Sankaranarayanan too opines, “The way forward would require a concerted effort from all stakeholders towards holistically pulling together the “4Es” - Education, Enforcement, Engineering and Emergency services. Partnerships and coordinated actions, big and small, will play a big role.”

Connecting road safety aspect to the growth of corporations across sectors, Larenaudie explains, “The productivity of industry, transportation of goods, and employee commuting are all dependent on a safe and efficient transportation system. Corporate entities can work to better road safety measures in two ways. The first is by holding employee safety workshops, which can help employees understand how to act in emergencies, expose employees to potential hazards, teach best practices, etc. Second, on a larger scale, corporations can create programs for employees to participate in giving back to the commuter services that they use on a daily basis. For example, have employees volunteer to become traffic wardens to direct traffic and impart best practices in traffic and driver safety back into the company. With most corporations in India utilizing third-party transportation companies, implementing programs like these is a great way to give back to the community while keeping road safety on top of their mind.”

With India continuing to urbanize, it is palpable that a comprehensive approach is what is needed towards improving the safety of Indian roads. A strong institutional mechanism along with a holistic strategy is what is needed to ensure the success of road safety initiatives.