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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Thursday, 19 April 2007, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
No U-turn on Indian road safety
By Harman Sidhu Singh

It is a telling statistic - India has just 1% of the world's vehicles, but accounts for 10% of the world's road accidents.

One of India's many congested roads
Gridlock has become a way of life on India's roads
Crash survivor Harman Sidhu Singh explains what India must do to drastically reduce the number of accidents on its roads.

Road safety experts talk about the three Es of road safety: engineering, education, and enforcement.

But in reality, in India, it's the three Gs that are used: good brakes, good horn and good luck.

Each year around the world more than a million die on the roads and millions more are maimed. Accidents are especially prolific in low and middle income countries.

Road traffic injuries are a neglected epidemic. They should be one of the world's priorities.

The longest second

Driving on Indian roads is like playing a "live" video game.

Harman Sidhu Singh
Harman Sidhu Singh wants greater investment in road infrastructure
All too often, aggression takes over once we get behind the steering wheel.

A safe driver is declared a poor driver with a timid personality. The vehicle with bigger dents commands more respect.

My luck ran out in October 1996 when the car I was travelling in rolled down into a gorge near Renuka Lake in the Himalayas.

The car dangled on the edge for a second and finally fell down. That was the longest second of my life.

As the dust settled, I heard my friends asking me to open the door of the car.

I had a very strong sense of immobility and pain in my arms. Then I realized that I couldn't move my legs.


We reached the hospital around 10 hours after the accident after travelling 100km in three different vehicles: a truck, a jeep and finally an ambulance.

A "No U Turn" sign
A lack of consistent signs adds to the confusion
On reaching the hospital it took a further eight hours for the doctors to decide that I had a spinal injury.

I was operated on five days after the accident. I assume the doctors knew that I might never recover, so they weren't treating it as an emergency case.

I spent two long years in recovery as I had developed big pressure sores in my stay at the hospital.

I just wanted to die so that everyone, including me, would be relieved of the pain and agony.

Poor care

The accident has left me paralysed from the neck down but with around 20% use of my arms.

By the time a road or a flyover is finished the volume of traffic has already increased beyond its capacity

Even now, the worst part of the day is when I wake up but cannot get out of the bed.

My experience is, unfortunately, typical of the lack of pre and post hospital care for road crash victims.

The three Gs don't work; we must put in place the three Es along with a strong emergency medical system to stop the carnage on India's roads where over 90,000 people die and more than 300,000 are maimed each year.


Since my accident, I have been campaigning to improve road safety and educate road users so they don't end up like me.

I founded an NGO and website, ArriveSafe, and we've developed road safety information and computer software that aims to standardize learning and testing procedures for prospective drivers.

Vehicles making their way around India's roads
India lacks a National Traffic Code
India has suffered from poor road engineering. Correcting the country's historical underinvestment in road infrastructure would play a crucial role in reducing traffic incidents.

By the time a road or a flyover is finished the volume of traffic has already increased beyond its capacity.

Lack of consistent signs, and signs only in English compound drivers' confusion.

Prioritising road safety

We should have a system that trains prospective drivers in all aspects of road use - prioritising road safety.

New vehicles - mainly two and three wheelers - are pouring onto India's roads every day

All over India, we accept gridlocks as part of the traffic system which only serves to increase road rage amongst drivers.

New vehicles - mainly two and three-wheelers - are pouring onto India's roads every day.

The World Health Organisation believes that by 2020 the number of vehicles in India and elsewhere in Asia will have increased by a staggering 65%.

We need a National Traffic Code, as they have in Brazil - another middle income country.

India's challenge is to evolve a nationwide system where slow moving traffic is not forced off the road but included as part of a safer system.

Sowing the seeds of safety

I visited my crash site 10 years after I was injured.

I expected to see some improvements but to my shock things had got worse.

A short term and efficient answer could be to sow the seed of safety in local communities. I have tried it in a few villages and have been encouraged by the response.

Small efforts like the village head resolving to wear a crash helmet every time he uses his motorbike has had a strong impact on other villagers.

It is the community that must be encouraged to treat this danger with the seriousness it deserves.

After all, at the end of the day, everyone wants their near and dear to arrive at their destination safely.

This report is shown on Newsnight at 10.30pm on Thursday, 19 April, 2007, on BBC TWO

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