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We are on the verge of the worst epidemic in mankind’s history. Can we stop it?

An Alarming Epidemic


In the Plague of Justinian in 541 and 542 AD, approximately 100,000,000 people died, making this event recognized as the worst epidemic in history.  The second worst epidemic was the Black Plague in 1346 to 1350 with 50,000,000 people dying, followed by the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in which approximately 40,000,000 people died between 1960, and today we have coronavirus.



According to the World Health Organization, every year, approximately 1,350,000 people die on the roads around the world.


Assuming a conservative estimate of 1,000,000 deaths on the world’s roads each year since 1960, this would mean almost 60,000,000 people have died on our roads in the past 60 years, making Road Carnage statistically the second worst epidemic in history, surpassing the Black Plague!  In addition, another 20 to 50 million people are seriously injured each year on our roads.

The alarming part of this story is that the 1,350,000 death total is more than 7% higher than the 1,260,000 people who were dying on our roads in 2010, when the Decade of Action was started.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2016 report states there were 496,762 roads, railways and railway crossing-related traffic collisions in 2015. Of these, road collisions accounted for 464,674 collisions which caused 148,707 traffic-related deaths in India.


Decade of Action


The Decade of Action was designed to implement strategies to reduce fatalities on the roads.  We are going in the wrong direction, and not enough effort is being made to reduce these fatalities on our roads.  Like Einstein so correctly stated, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  We MUST stop the insanity by doing something different starting today, or we face the unfortunate fate of being a part of the generations that allowed road fatalities to become the worst epidemic in mankind’s history.


What are we doing differently since 2010? 


Are we aware of the problem? 

Are we aware of the “vaccines” that are available right now to reduce the levels of fatalities due to the global road safety epidemic?

Ignoring the Problem


You would think that with the advancements in vehicle safety, road safety concepts and products, driver education, and more, we would see fatalities dropping every year.  It is interesting that about 92% of the fatalities occur on lower and middle income countries.  These countries are not aware of many of the vehicle safety or road safety advancements.


This is exactly what Savelife Foundation (https://savelifefoundation.org/) is trying to overcome in India.  It is VERY frustrating to tell road authorities about safety advancements only to see them totally disregard what you tell them.


Too many countries have a speed management problem. A pedestrian impacted by a vehicle traveling at 30 kmph only has about a 10% chance of dying.  That same pedestrian impacted by a vehicle traveling at 50 kmph has about a 90% chance of dying! However, we have pedestrians walking right next to roads with 50 kmp speed limits. We must follow the example of London and Melbourne by implementing the “Safe System Approach” and reduce the speed limit within the city limits where pedestrians are located to 20 mph (30 km/h); Melbourne and London are two of the safest cities in the world for traffic fatalities. However implementing a 20 mph (30 km/h) speed limit in a city would be political suicide in many countries!

The road industry is the only industry in the world where people are willing to sacrifice health and safety for speed and mobility. Imagine going to a doctor and telling the doctor that you have a concept or a device that will reduce the operating time for an open heart surgery procedure from six hours to four hours. The downside is that there is a 40% greater chance that the patient would die! You would get thrown out of the building! The road industry understands the facts and yet continues to side with the speed and mobility supporters.

Context sensitive design, such as planting trees in medians, is another issue where the architects have a louder voice than the safety specialists.  Unfortunately in many cases there are no road safety specialists at the table. The proper utilization of an Road Safety Audit can help to make everyone aware of the road safety considerations.


No More Excuses


If something is important to you, you will FIND A WAY.  If it is not important to you, you will find an “EXCUSE.”  No more EXCUSES! Everyone needs to make the effort to learn about the road safety vaccines, either on-line, in magazines, in exhibitions, in conferences or in training courses, and then use this knowledge to stop the carnage on our roads.

Our eyes MUST be opened by now, and now we must act aggressively to make a difference.   Act today to make a difference tomorrow.  We must make our roads “Safe,” and not just “Safer,” for All Road Users.

There are some things in life that we do not want to be known as being number one.  Let’s do what we need to do to leave that epidemic distinction to the Plague of Justinian.


Facts


Cyclists and Pedestrians Most at Risk

Any road safety strategy will mean nothing if it neglects to consider the mobility and safety of the most vulnerable road user groups, that is pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In most major cities in India, these groups make up more than 75 percent of all road fatalities; pedestrians generally accounting for more than half that number. However, most of our road safety strategies are car-centric. Little attention is paid to the mobility needs of the vulnerable road users, putting them at risk as they attempt to negotiate their way through fast moving traffic.

Designing sustainable principles into our transport and development policies will have a significant long-term impact on the road safety scenario in our country. Like Sweden’s Vision Zero policy, cities need to focus on the safety of vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists. If roads are designed to be safe for the most vulnerable user, then it will be safe for all.



Control Speeds, Reduce Accidents

The single most critical factor in road accidents is speed. Speed increases both the likelihood of a crash, and the severity when it occurs. Traffic calming measures, that is, designing to automatically control excessive speeding, will have a far greater impact on road safety than any other measure. In fact, the most effective way to control speed is through road design. In the context of shared road space, traffic calming measures would mean fewer crashes and fatalities for not only car users, but for pedestrians and other road users as well.

Sweden’s Vision Zero designed city roads to dictate speed choice. They set up three – and only three – standardised speed zones across the entire country, of 30 kmph, 50 kmph and 70 kmph. The speed limits were decided first based on what is suitable in the local context, and then based on the given road’s function in the overall road hierarchy. Rather than relying merely on speed limit regulations, road designs were altered to induce motorists to drive at the design speed, such that a motorist is almost automatically aware of the stipulated speed without having to look for speed limit signs.


Road Safety Problems in India


In India, it is unrealistic to expect speed limit regulations to be effective, given the poor level of traffic compliance. Road design in India follows outdated highway standards that have, in many cases, not been updated in decades. The generous lane width, wide road curvature, uninterrupted medians, and grade-separated intersections, allow vehicles to be driven at very high speeds. It is pointless to overdesign a road for a much higher speed, and then enforce a lower speed limit. This is both a waste of money, and a big contributor to the safety problem.

For example, the Bandra-Worli sea-link in Mumbai, an 8-lane highway, is designed for speeds in excess of 100 kmph. However, in order to reduce the number of accidents, Mumbai Police have enforced a 50 kmph speed limit, and had rumble strips installed in order to slow down vehicles. Had the sea-link been initially designed for a 50 kmph speed limit, it would have saved a lot of resources.


Building Indian Cities Safer by Design


What design features can reduce speed? Mainly, reducing the number and width of lanes, providing tighter corner kerbs at intersections, and introducing frequent median breaks, pedestrian crossings and speed humps. Chicanes can be inserted in high density areas of the city that mix different forms of transport. Chicanes are artificial features that create extra turns in the road to slow traffic for safety. Segregated lanes for non-motorised transport users, such as footpaths and cycle lanes, should also be built as part of a larger contiguous network.

Contrary to popular belief, these measures do not aggravate traffic congestion, but rather help ease congestion by ensuring consistent travel speed, smoothening traffic flow, and preventing the build-up of traffic at intersections. In fact, designing roads for lower speeds increases road capacity, as faster moving vehicles require more road length per car in order to maintain adequate headway between vehicles. In a new report, Cities Safer by Design, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities presents a guide that includes more than 30 specific urban design recommendations for urban planners and policymakers, emphasising both building and retrofitting urban environments to reduce the need for individual vehicle trips, as well as reducing vehicle speeds in areas where cars, pedestrians and cyclists mix. This guide will help authorities make the right design choices to reduce fatalities, improve quality of life, and make cities vibrant and prosperous.


References


1. United Nations Road Safety Collaboration Pillar 2 ‘Safer Roads and Mobility.’ The Pillar 2 Project Group goal is to provide direction and guidance for road authorities to meet the challenge of the Decade of Action to reduce global road fatalities by 2020.


2. Savelife Foundation Reports


3. World Resources Institute








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