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2011-11-19 13:00

TRAFFIC JAM: Elephants, cyclists, motorcyclists, cars and buses compete for space on an Indian road. IMAGE: AFP


New Delgi -  When the World Health Organisation marks World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims on Saturday, November 19 2011, the focus will be on India where more people are killed in traffic accidents than in any other country.

A road accident occurs there nearly every minute; somebody dies every four minutes.

According to the Indian government, 125 660 people were killed in almost half a million accidents in 2009. In Germany, for instance, 4 152 people were killed in road accidents the same year.

The difference between more than 80 million Germans and India's 1.2 billion inhabitants is not the only reason for the difference. The latest World Bank statistics (2006) showed Germans having 600 vehicles for every 1 000 residents. There are only just 15/1 000 in India.


However, that figure does not include two-wheelers, which are popular in southern Asia. The number of vehicles is growing but their prevalence nevertheless remains much lower than in Western industrial nations.

While the number of victims continues to rise in India, it is decreasing in many other leading nations, including China, the only country with more people than India. In 2006, the number of traffic deaths in India topped its bigger neighbour China for the first time; by 2008, 46 000 more people had died in traffic accidents in India than in China.

To understand the reasons for this deadly development, all one needs do is take a drive on India's streets, where the right of way has been replaced by might is right. Buses race into roundabouts without braking, trucks don't brake for cars, and cars don't stop for bikes or motorcycles. The lowest on the ladder are pedestrians, for whom nobody slows down.

India traffic - AFP

FAMILY WHEELS: It's not unusual to see an entire family on a scooter in India.


It's not really mandatory to use indicators in traffic; drivers often wave to show they plan to turn. Since more and more cars are equipped with aircon, windows stay closed; and many vehicles carry stickers with the warning: "Air-conditioned car - no hand signals."

Buses and trucks are often overloaded but corrupt police officers look the other way.

Technical failures also cause many accidents; there are no compulsory regular technical inspections in India. Many drivers don't bother to stop at a workshop to fix a broken light, though they may do so for a deficient hooter, some thing they keep in constant use... not necessarily to warn of a possible collision but as a signal that one is approaching from behind. Many drivers don't look into their rear-view mirror and most exterior mirrors are folded in to avoid them being lost in the cramped traffic.

It's not uncommon to see animals occupying the streets - cows, elephant, camels and water buffalo plod stoically through the traffic and dogs and monkeys race on and along the streets, sparking evasive manoeuvres by drivers who are talking on their cellphones at the same time.

Those who survive an accident cannot count on the help of other road-users for fear the victim's family will accuse them of involvement in the accident.

"The extent of road accidents and victims in India is alarming," the transport ministry warned recently, but it doesn't look like a solution will be found any time soon.

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