Road accidents are a public health concern and a leading cause of death and injury worldwide, killing more than 1.35 million people globally.1 Ninety percent of these casualties take place in developing countries. The WHO has identified accident-related deaths as the eighth leading cause of death and the first largest cause of death among children aged 5–14 and adults aged 15–29.2

Yet, road transport remains the most favored mode of transport for both freight and passenger movement in India. The fast-growing population and exceptional rate of motorization, coupled with ever-growing urbanization, has made people vulnerable to frequent road accidents resulting in fatalities and injuries. India accounts for almost 11% of the world’s accident-related deaths. The total estimated socioeconomic cost of road accidents India reported in 2018 amounted to 1.47114 trillion INR, equivalent to 0.77% of the nation’s GDP.3

Major causes of road accidents

Road accidents are multi-causal, the result of an interplay of various factors. These broadly fit into the following categories:

  • Human errors, which includes accidents caused by traffic rule violations like speeding, drunken driving, using mobile phones while driving, driving on the wrong side of the road, etc. Untrained and unqualified drivers or those without a valid driving license represent a serious traffic hazard and can cause accidents, death and injuries. In India, accidents involving drivers without a valid driving license and those with only a learner’s license account for 14.8% of accidents.3
  • Lack of safety devices, which includes not wearing helmets and seat belts
  • Poor infrastructure, which includes poorly constructed roads, old or malfunctioning vehicles, overloading vehicles, etc. 

Reducing accidents and moving toward vision zero — the Indian perspective

Some measures India has adopted to mitigate risks inherent in road accidents include:

  • Improved road use behavior through driver training, publicity and awareness campaigns toward road safety
  • Improved road engineering measures like identification and rectification of historically accident-prone stretches of road, road safety audits, crash barrier installation and training and capacity building in the road safety field
  • Vehicular engineering measures including vehicle safety features introduced at all stages, including design (like airbags), manufacture, usage, operation and maintenance in line with international standards and practices to minimize adverse safety and environmental effects of vehicle operation on road users and infrastructure

In the green energy era, vehicular engineering measures need constant review and revision. As SAE India President Rashmi Urdhwareshe aptly pointed out, “It’s important for women also to take part in what gets to be designed primarily as a male-dominated product like automotive vehicles.” She also recounts that “a woman pointed out that she was left with a flat tire and had no opportunity to change it because her vehicle didn’t have a spare wheel. That resulted in a requirement within the Indian regulations that vehicles must be fitted with a spare wheel.” This redirects us to the need for gender inclusivity in designing safety measures to accommodate the needs and address the challenges that female drivers face.

In addition to her role as president at SAE India, Urdhwareshe serves as a senior adviser at Pune Knowledge Cluster. She was the former director of the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and received a Nari Shakti Puraskar award.

Urdhwareshe unveils her life story from pursuing electrical engineering in 1981 to becoming the ARAI’s director, having first joined as a trainee engineer. She expresses how her choices and challenges have shaped her life; shares her success stories, the golden principles for women who consider careers in STEM and how women can navigate their career path in engineering fields; and discusses the spreading horizon of opportunity for women and the importance of inclusivity in designing products. 

Tune in to our podcast, “Word to the W.I.S.E.,” to learn more about her journey.

References:

  1. "Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018." Last modified June 17, 2018. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241565684.
  2. "Road Traffic Injuries." WHO | World Health Organization. Last modified June 21, 2021. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/road-traffic-injuries.
  3. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India. Accessed Dec. 20, 2021. https://morth.nic.in/sites/default/files/RA_Uploading.pdf.