Car Safeness in India
The Supreme Court of India identified the growing number of car accidents as a “National Emergency.” About 12% of the world’s road accidents involve Indians. They own less than 3% of the globe’s vehicles. This created a decrease in car safeness in India. With over five lakh accidents recorded each year, India records the highest road fatalities, a lop-sided track record in comparison to countries with high motorization rates.

Jai Prakash Sharma, a taxi driver in Mumbai since 2008, believes the primary reason behind the increase in accidents is careless drivers. Despite the implementation of stringent rules and heftier fines, there is still a great deal of misconduct. “As far as taxi drivers are concerned, they try their best to drive with caution as the implications of a road fatality can be financially crippling, especially following a pandemic,” he said. Studies have found that road fatalities in India have a direct impact on poverty and low-income households. Moreover, they promote rural-urban inequality and impede India’s prosperity.

Road Crashes and Poverty

In India, the majority of accidents involve pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists who often belong to the low-middle income strata. According to Ashok Kumar Yadav, a 43-year-old cab driver in Mumbai, road fatalities will rise as people prefer personal vehicles or even walking over public transport due to safety and affordability issues.

A World Bank survey in India indicated that more than 75% of the low-income households experienced a sharp decline in living standards following a major accident. Yadav said the aftermath of the accidents drains four to five months of his salary. Data has shown that the impact of an accident can use seven months of earnings in low-income households, whereas high-income families use up only one month of earnings. Yadav said, “I involuntarily have to borrow to compensate for hefty medical and repair costs because my earnings and savings are not enough.”

Road Crashes and Rural-Urban Disparity

Statistics have pointed out that road fatalities have elevated inequality in India. The drop in income post-crash was highest in lower-income households (LIH) in rural areas (56%). High-income households (HIH) in rural areas (39.5%) and LIH in urban areas (29.5%) followed this statistic. Indian Union transport minister, Nitin Gadkari, released this report. The relationship between the drop in income at the place of the crash is, in part, representative of the rampant rural-urban disparity in India.

A World Bank and Save Life Foundation study has suggested that low-income households in rural areas are more prone to road fatalities. In fact, this number is four times more than low-income households in urban areas. The report also determined that low-income households reported twice the number of deaths in comparison to high-income families.

Jai Prakash explained the majority of the taxi drivers have only minimum health insurance coverage. Therefore, individuals sustaining major injuries pay medical bills out-of-pocket. Consequently, they arranged money to begin medical procedures.

Road Crashes and Women

Rajiv Manda, a veteran among other taxi drivers, worries about the consequences of a car accident. It would not only put him out of work but also burden his wife and kids to provide for the family. He said, “When a sole jobholder (typically a man) in a low-income household loses their job, the added load often is assumed by the women in the family.” In fact, about 11% of women from affected families take up extra work to mitigate the financial woes of the family. As a result, about 40% reported a change in working patterns, while 50% experienced a substantial drop in livelihoods.

Road Crashes and Prosperity

The latest findings by India’s government and the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal car accidents as the primary cause of death among the age group of five to 29. The lack of car safeness in India reflects this information. Rajiv Manda blames the recklessness and negligence of young drivers. He said, “Young vehicle users often drive in high spirits, which is a recipe for trouble.”

Such deaths prevent a dynamic pool of youth from having a productive impact on the country. The cost of loss in productivity, combined with the obligation on police, courts, healthcare and insurance systems, aggregates to a massive 3% of India’s GDP or 4.3 lakh crore annually. A World Bank study has shown that if India manages to halve road deaths and injuries between 2014 and 2038, it could uplift India’s GDP by 14%.


The Indian government has introduced a National Road Safety Policy and a Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill. This will improve safety requirements, law enforcement and victim assistance, and subsequently reduce road fatalities. Additionally, the government has launched a variety of initiatives to generate awareness about the issue.

Yadav is thankful for these measures but feels that the government should improve healthcare services and post-crash care. For example, he explained that the current car insurance procedures are counterproductive. Drivers frequently have to leave their taxis at the insurance office to undergo car inspection to claim car insurance, forcing them to forgo work.


Road accidents can have injurious effects on the financial stability of low-income families. They can also shove them into vicious depths of poverty, disproportionately impacting poor families and women. The lack of car safeness in India highlights the rural-urban divide in the country.

Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

road safety in developing countries
When people help developing countries — they usually support policies that provide food, medicine and machines that will prevent malnourishment. Perhaps all to ease the transition into a stable society. All those efforts certainly benefit people, as 50 million fewer children around the world are malnourished compared to 20 years ago. Yet, the sometimes overlooked policy area of improving road safety in developing countries is also very important.

Lesser Income Countries Are Most Affected

Even if we save the world from malnourishment — it would not help the 1.35 million that fall victim to road accidents, every year. Also, 93% of road fatalities occur in middle or low-income countries, which impedes growth and hurts regions already suffering from other effects of poverty. International agencies around the world are proposing solutions to stop preventable deaths due to traffic accidents. Here are three agencies working to improve road safety in developing countries and thus — save lives with tried and true methods.

3 Agencies Improving Road Safety in Developing Countries

  1. WHO: The World Health Organization within the United Nations is primarily responsible for informing and organizing information about health-related issues, such as road safety in developing countries. In 2017, they released a guidebook for governments called Save LIVES, which outlines ambitious goals, such as reducing accident fatality by 50% by 2020. While the data is not yet available for 2020 — it may have happened, if only because of the coronavirus pandemic. Save LIVES suggests mitigation strategies as well, like lowering and enforcing speed limits. For instance, lowering the speed limit by just 1% holds the potential to reduce fatal crashes by 4%.
  2. Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS): This philanthropic organization, funded by the Bloomberg financial company, uses evidence-based approaches to increase road safety in developing countries. They started in some of the hardest-hit countries in their pilot program. E.g., Cambodia, Mexico and Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, BIGRS focused on reducing drunk driving through a combination of advertisements and increased enforcement as well as improving the existing transit system. As both efforts reduced deaths, Bloomberg has since expanded its efforts to other countries and is currently trying other approaches. For instance, working with manufacturers directly to make airbags and seatbelts standard, across the world.
  3. Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety: While this group does not directly build better roads or encourage legislation — it does organize and compile data from other NGOs. On the website are many articles about the impacts of those nonprofits. For example, ASIRT Kenya encouraged the creation of Nairobi Metropolitan Services in the neighboring country, to make journeys to school easier. Les Ambassadeurs de la Sécurité Routière (ASR) in Tunisia created a summer of road safety to encourage drivers and passengers to wear seatbelts and motorcycle helmets. Through a media campaign, they hoped to reduce road deaths by approximately 40%.

Road Safety and Poverty?

These organizations use many of the same solutions — encouraging people to wear seatbelts, increasing enforcement and decreasing speed limits. All of these efforts are for the same end goals of road safety in developing countries. Reducing traffic deaths has many benefits that people may not initially realize and can directly reduce poverty. The GDP growth of many developing countries could happen faster if they did not have the burden of losing citizens to the roads. An estimate by the WHO states that developing countries miss out on 7–22% of their potential GDP increase, because of such deaths. Countries with higher productivity (measured by GDP) tend to have less poverty because they can participate more in international trade. These countries also tend to produce more resources like food and medicine.

With safe roads both coming from and encouraging a greater GDP, impoverished people can continue their ascent out of poverty as road safety in developing countries and GDP simultaneously improve.

 Michael Straus
Photo: Flickr