Horn OK But security too please? Pauri Garhwal, Palakkad and Nashik show how India’s buses follow a deadly route

India woke up to the news of another deadly accident on Saturday, this time in Nashik, Maharashtra, in which 11 people died after their bus collided with a truck early in the morning and caught fire within minutes. Just three days ago, a bus carrying a wedding party fell into a 500-meter-deep gorge in Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal district, killing 33 people. Turn on your television or flip through the day’s newspaper and you will find reports of numerous such accidents, sometimes hidden on the back page as well as in public memory.

Road safety has earned a dubious distinction in India, with more than 1,00,000 people dying each year in accidents due to poor driving and poor road conditions. Buses, one of the most popular and cheapest modes of transport, have also fallen victim to apathy, as operators often flout safety regulations and pack people beyond the capacity of the vehicle. Overworked and under-rested drivers, negligence and the rush to beat a competing bus for passengers have been some of the most common causes of bus accidents in India. So why haven’t the country and the authorities woken up to this evil yet?

what do the numbers say

According to 2021 data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), up to 1,55,622 lakh people lost their lives and 3,71,884 people were injured in 4,03,116 road accidents in India. Traffic accident cases in the country have increased from 354,796 in 2020 to 4,03,116 in 2021, the report adds.

The highest increase in the number of traffic accident cases in states from 2020 to 2021 was recorded in Tamil Nadu (from 46,443 to 57,090) followed by Madhya Pradesh (from 43,360 to 49,493), Uttar Pradesh (from 30 593 to 36,509), Maharashtra (24,908 to 30,086), and Kerala (27,998 to 33,051).

NCRB data from 2021 had revealed that as many as 2,951 people were killed in bus accidents in Karnataka between 2016 and 2020, with the main reasons being speeding and carrying more passengers than stipulated capacity.

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“Karnataka is among the top five states with the highest number of bus accidents in the country. Other states are Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh,” a senior official from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways told the Times of India at the time. In addition to driver behavior/fault (speeding, fatigue, and alcohol), reasons such as overloading, steep inclines/curves, poorly designed speed brakes, potholes, dysfunctional streetlights, lack of signaling, and poor bus condition (failure to brakes, short circuit, tires). bursting, broken floor, etc.) also cause accidents.

Reports from Pune this year painted a similar picture. At least 95 accidents involving Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) were reported from April 2021 to June 2022, in which 22 people lost their lives, according to data from the public transport body.

In 2017, almost 29 people died daily in road accidents involving buses, with Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala topping the list. Nearly 86 percent of the dead were bus passengers, according to government data.

The roads must share the blame

In 2019, 44 people were killed when a bus, while going around a sharp curve, went off the road in Kullu. There were no protection barriers at the site and the road was also in poor condition. A year earlier, an overloaded private bus going from Pauri to Nainital fell into a gorge, killing 48 people. Many survivors said the incident occurred after the driver tried to avoid a large pothole but lost control of the vehicle.

The first instinct when a bus accident occurs is to blame the driver; after all, he was behind the wheel and responsible for the safety of his passengers. However, experts say that while overworked, drunk, drugged or sleep deprived drivers cannot be blamed, poor roads and compliance with regulations also play a critical role in ensuring road safety. .

The Times of India reported that in 2018, a non-profit body, the Institute of Traffic Education (IRTE), carried out an investigation into a bus accident in Kangra of Himachal in which 24 children were killed. Expert Rohit Baluja, who led the investigation, said that while the driver was responsible, “the road environment, including road engineering and signage, did not meet the standards required for safe operation.”

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A similar problem was revealed during a state police investigation into a bus accident that killed 60 people in Kondagattu of Telangana in 2018. “The main reason was overload. But we also found that the slope of the road was too steep and there was a chance that the brakes would not work. There were poorly designed speed brakes that could contribute to the driver losing control,” said Krishna Prasad T, DGP of Telangana in charge of road safety.

The problem is more complex in mountainous terrain where the topography adds to the driver’s challenge. Multiple hairpin turns, potholes, boulders, missing signage, and a lack of speed control make for a risky ride, but even over the years, negligible efforts have been made to fill these gaps.

What can be done?

There have been demands to make scientific investigation of fatal accidents mandatory, there has been no movement in that direction. In 2018, the government had announced a sum of Rs 11 billion to fix the most accident-prone areas across the country, but the amount seems too insignificant for a country as big as India.

It is also necessary to reduce competition between drivers and give up the market pressure that forces exhausted drivers to get behind the wheel. To combat fatigue, reserve drivers on buses could be made mandatory, which will not only ensure that passengers arrive at their destination on time, but also that they are in safe hands.

It is also necessary to ensure that the buses are maintained, with the brakes, motors, pumps and steering wheel receiving the necessary repairs.

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