Over 85,000 pedestrians have lost their lives in road accidents in a span of five years in India with the figures only rising annually, even as experts suggested a dire need for motorists to respect the 'right of way' of those walking.
Around 22,656 pedestrians were killed on roads in 2018, a sharp 10.11 per cent rise over 20,457 in 2017, while the figures stood at 15,746 in 2016, 13,894 in 2015 and 12,300 in 2014, according to data of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH).
In 2018, pedestrians formed 15 per cent of the total number of those killed in road accidents, up from 8.8 per cent in 2014, 9.5 per cent in 2015, 10.5 per cent in 2016 and 13.8 per cent in 2017, the data showed.
"The level of vulnerability of road-users to accidents is high as the same road space is being shared among a wide variety of motorised, and non-motorised vehicles and pedestrians," the ministry stated in its annual report of accident-related deaths.
According to the MoRTH, there are more than 253 million registered vehicles in India and the number has been growing at an annual rate of 10.11 per cent between 2007 and 2017, even as road safety experts suggested lack of proper pedestrian facilities, engineering flaws and lack of awareness were leading to casualties.
Designing and architecture specialists said hardly any road stretch in the country qualified as a benchmark for segmentation of pedestrians, cyclists and motorised vehicles, unlike in some European countries or Singapore where the number of casualties has come down over the years.
They believed that coming up with more and more foot over bridges (FOBs) is not the right approach and ignores a pedestrian right of way while making them put extra efforts in crossing a road. Subways could be a better option, the experts held.
"The first and foremost solution to check such accidents could be appointment of road safety auditors by authorities like Public Works Department (PWD) and retrofitting of all crucial points. But that does not happen. There is a lot of talk from officials about making roads safer, but that has not been seen in their work," said P K Sarkar of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) in Delhi.
"In a city like Delhi, there are more FOBs than subways and we have seen how they are being used. One example of good work is at the KG Marg near Connaught Place where the road has been humped a little and a subway made that does not force pedestrians to go down too deep in order to cross the road. It's working very well and the hump also slows down the vehicles a bit before the reach turns on either end of the road," Sarkar, a professor and head of Transport Planning department at SPA, told PTI.
He said FOBs cost lesser than subways but the government should look at cost benefit in the longer run, and also stressed the need for making roads safer not only for pedestrians but also for physically-disabled persons.
According to the guidelines of the Indian Roads Congress (IRC), the apex body of highway engineers in the country, pedestrian facilities should be planned in an integrated manner so as to ensure a continuous flow of pedestrian flow.
"The basic aim should be to reduce pedestrian conflicts with vehicular traffic to the minimum. Efforts should be made to create such conditions that pedestrians are not forced to walk in unsafe circumstances, and that the motorists respect the position of pedestrians," the IRC guideline 103 states.
"While planning, the convenience of pedestrians should be a paramount consideration. Otherwise, the facilities provided will not be fully used," the guidelines say, clearly emphasising that the minimum width of a footpath has to be 1.50 metre.
But there is no such "culture of respecting the pedestrians right of way "even on a zebra crossing in India, said Subhash Chand, head of traffic engineering and safety division at the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) in Delhi.
He said that despite guidelines being in place since several years, there is not enough awareness about the rules and road behaviour among a large section of people.
"Even if a single pedestrian is there on a zebra crossing, then it is bound on a motorist to stop well before the zebra crossing and allow the pedestrian to cross the road. The responsibility lies on the motorist to respect the right of way of the person walking on foot," Chand said.
There are multiple factors behind the problem, identified Chand, a principal scientist at CRRI who has worked on several traffic management systems in Delhi and other cities like Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow.
"While the people's lack of education about rules and their awareness on road safety is a major cause, inadequate law enforcement on the roads by agencies, like traffic police, and the government's planning of safe passageways also contributes towards making pedestrians a vulnerable lot on roads," he added.
Image credit: ANI