Friday, February 7, 2014

India needs tougher road safety laws

By Neeraj Mahajan

At least 44 people including several children -- lost their lives when the tank of the speeding bus on the Bangalore- Hyderabad highway exploded triggering a major fire. Most of the victims were at that time deep asleep and had absolutely no chance. In all 49 people were travelling on the bus when the accident took place but only the driver, conductor and three others managed to get out of the bus after breaking the windows before it erupted in flames.  The driver and conductor were taken into custody for questioning while the three other survivors were taken to a nearby hospital. Preliminary investigations revealed that the bus belonging to Jabbar Travels crashed into the roadside barrier while overtaking another vehicle. The impact let to explosion in the tank and powerful flames engulfed the bus with 44 people trapped inside. Almost all of them were unrecognizable.

Most of the victims were software engineers, on their way home for Diwali.

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At least 22 people were killed soon after midnight when a bus carrying wedding guests spun out of control in the Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh and hurtled into a river. Only fifteen people survived the accident. The bride, groom and 11 people were among those who were missing.

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After three separate yet back to back ghastly accidents within a span of a one month causing the death of 52 passengers – serious doubts were raised about the suitability of European-made high-end Volvo 9400 multi-axle  AC luxury coaches for Indian road conditions.

A common feature in almost all the accidents was that passengers unable to flee the raging flames and were burned alive because they could not operate the emergency exits. There were also no hammers for them to break the window glass to escape.

According to an expert Volvo buses did not have proper emergency exit doors from 2003 and 2006 as mandated by the Central Motor Vehicle (CMV) Rules 128 (4). Between 2006 to 2010 the Motor Vehicle Rules itself was amended to accommodate Volvo’s comfort level. Finally though the rule provided for rear windscreen emergency exit, this exit was nine feet above the ground making it impossible for passengers to jump out without hurting themselves.

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Interestingly the investigation into the two Volvos road accidents tried to down play the incident by putting all the blame on the driver.
“The driver of the Hyderabad-bound bus was stressed because of double duty and hence he could not find the brakes on time," Road Transport and Highways Minister Oscar Fernandes informed the parliament.
"There were firecrackers in the Bangalore-Hyderabad bus," he added. According to Fernandes the bus might have caught fire due to a spark causing the firecrackers to explode.
Fernandes however declined to comment on the second incident in which seven passengers were killed and 40 injured when a Bangalore-Mumbai bus caught fire after hitting a road median at Haveri in Karnataka.

Meanwhile, a preliminary report by Accident Data Analysis Centre of National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project highlighted that the buses had wooden flooring and inflammable seats and its speed limit was also high.

Another plausible reason thrown up by preliminary investigations is dies is over speeding by drivers and possible use of adulterated fuel that ignite easily.

Road accidents are common on India’s highways and claim hundreds of lives each year but rarely do buses burn down at the speed seen in these recent incidents.

These accidents have also highlighted efforts by unscrupulous private operators’ ways to do away with emergency exits to accommodate extra seats in the 45-50-seater to increase the profitability of Low-chassis multi-axle Volvo buses.

The accidents have dented the image of Volvo, the foreign bus maker with the highest market share in India with some 5,000 buses on the roads. Incidents like these have seriously eroded Volvo’s promise about the safety and comfort of the air conditioned Volvo buses. Many questions have cropped up regarding technical safety and design fault in the Volvo buses which were fast becoming a popular mode of intercity travel in India.

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At least 37 people were killed and 15 injured – when an overnight bus carrying passengers from Goa to Mumbai crashed through a guard rail and plunged off a bridge in a pre-dawn accident in Ratnagiri district 200 kms south of Mumbai.  The cause of the accident was not clear.

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22 children were burnt alive when a school bus caught fire in Mumbai.

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At least 10 people died and 30 were injured when a bus travelling on the Pune-Satara road was hit from behind by a container truck.

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At least six students of Sangawade Secondary School of Kolhapur aged 14-16 years were killed when their bus met with an accident on the Solapur-Dhule highway in Maharashtra.  The accident occurred when the bus was negotiating a sharp turn near Nagoba Temple, 15 km from the famous pilgrim centre of Tuljapur and failed to notice a speeding private tourist bus coming from the opposite direction. The two buses collided head-on at the sharp turn.

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A school bus driver and conductor in Delhi were arrested for sexually abusing a six-year old girl.
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At least 26 students and teachers were killed when a bus fell from a bridge into a dry riverbed in northwestern India

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A school bus collided with a truck laden with bricks in northwestern India killing at least eleven children.
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During the last few years there has been an increase in number of school bus accidents involving children… However In spite of an increase in school bus accidents in the past, transport authority and the school management are not taking any action to avoid accidents.

Recent School Bus Accidents:
·         3 Jan 2014: 40 people, including students, were injured in an accident when a school bus collided with a private bus near Chakkarakkal in Kannur.  
·         16 Jan 2014: Eight children were injured, two of them critically when a bus belonging to Army Public School collided with a truck in the morning fog near Sector 31 Noida.  
·         10 January, 2013: At least 25 people, including 11 children, were been killed when the truck they were travelling overturned in Bihar
·         30 July, 2013: At least 10 children aged 7-17 died on the spot and 20 were injured in an accident when their school bus collided with a truck on a national highway in the district of Ganganagar district in Rajasthan. The bus driver was allegedly trying to overtake another vehicle when he collided with a truck coming towards him. There were nearly 50 children in the bus at the time of the accident.
·         9 May 2013: At least 39 people including 3 children were killed and 40 injured in a bus crash in Himachal Pradesh.
·         4 March, 2013: At least 11 children and a driver were killed and another 10 children injured when a school bus collided with a truck in state of Punjab.
·         19 August, 2012: Twenty teachers injured in Tadepallygudem.
·         20 March 2012: Eight children killed and 30 injured when a school bus plunged into river in Andhra Pradesh.
·         7 March 2012: A 6 year old kid dead under a school bus in an accident in Krishna district 
·         1 March, 2012: 7 children injured in a school bus mishap in chittor district.
·         1 March, 2012: Two children died in East Godavari District.
·         29 February, 2012: Again two kids lost their life in East Godavari.

India has the world's worst record of child safety. 19 out of every 100,000 children are killed in road accidents. Road accidents account for over 130,000 deaths annually. According to World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Status Report on Road Safety India has overtaken China -- and has the worst road traffic accident rate worldwide.

Speeding, drunk driving, bad roads, overloading, poor vehicle maintenance, no use of helmets, seat belts and child restraints in vehicles are the main causes of fatalities in road accidents. Every hour, 40 people under 25 die in road accidents around the globe. According to the WHO, this is the second most important cause of death for 5 to 29 year olds. Eight percent of India’s road user deaths are bus drivers or passengers, 32% are riders of motorbikes or three-wheelers.

In India, the death toll rose to 14 per hour in 2009 as opposed to 13 the previous year. According to the latest report of National Crime Records Bureau or NCRB the total number of deaths every year due to road accidents has crossed the 140,000 mark. Drunken driving is the major cause of accidents, the NCRB report states.

Almost 99 per cent of the fatal accidents occur outside the cities are due to drunken driving. This notwithstanding, a common misconception among bus and truck drivers is that they are fully geared for highway driving after a few pegs down their throat. 

Trucks and two-wheelers are responsible for over 40 per cent deaths; peak traffic during afternoon and evening hours is the most dangerous time on the roads.

The matter is really serious as almost all the states of India are facing the brunt of the problem. The more progressive and developed states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are the most affected. What is worse is that the real numbers of fatalities are not even reported in most cases.

Significantly there is no estimate of people injured in road accidents who die within a few hours or days after the accident. Their deaths are then no longer linked to road traffic accidents.
114,000 people died nationwide on the roads in 2007, which equals one fatal accident every four-and-half minutes.

According to an international study conducted by Reuters Foundation India is the sixth most dangerous country worldwide for children after Sudan, Uganda, Congo, Iraq and Somalia as well as the worst place for women in the world amongst G20 nations.

•          41% of children in India die every year in transportation accidents
•          Every day, 27,000,000 school children traveling on 500,000 buses risk Delays, Run Over, Accidents, Terrorism, Death, Kidnappings, Bullying, Molestation,  and all kinds of traffic hazards.
·               12-year-old boy on his way to school kidnapped and murdered
•          Teacher & Bus Staff arrested for sexually abusing children aged 3-12

Strangely school bus and child safety is one of the parameters used to measure dangers to children. But if Indian school bus and child safety records are any indication, figures reveal a grim picture: 

·         3% of India’s GDP is spent on road accidents- this means road accidents cost a staggering Rs. 350 billion or Rs 35,000 Crores to the economy
·         13 people die every hour in road accidents in this country.
·         India with just 1% of the world’s vehicles, accounts for 10% of the world’s fatal accidents.
·         70% of road accidents take away the main wage earner.
·         Mortality rate per 10,000 vehicles in India is 14 
·         Mortality rate of children in India per 100,000 people is 19 
·         According to National Crime Records Bureau, Tamil Nadu (14%), Maharashtra (12.4%) and Andhra Pradesh (12.1%) have the maximum accidents in the country.
·         Drivers’ fault (78%) is the single most important factor responsible for accidents
·         Child traffic death rate in India is four to five times higher than other developed nations.
·         That is when an estimated 30% of accidents go unreported

Four year old Japneet Singh’s father dressed him neatly in nursery school uniform and dropped him off at the bus stop. In the afternoon, his grandfather waiting at the bus stop but Japneet never returned home. He was found lying in a pool of blood on the roadside. His schoolbooks were scattered on the ground, and his brother, Parmeet was kneeling beside his limp body. Cherry!” Parmeet implored, “Get up!” but Japneet did not respond.

All over India many unfortunate schoolchildren- like Japneet go to school in the morning but never return home.

Japneet was crushed beneath the wheels of the bus when he exited the bus.

It’s been some time since India enacted the laws regulating school bus safety following a Supreme Court judgment which mandated speed governors to limit the vehicle’s speed, mechanical opening and closing of doors as well as qualified and experienced, law-abiding driver conductors. Surprisingly even the parents are reluctant to take on schools on safety issue.
At the time of searching for a new school, most parents usually take pains to find out things like student teacher ratio, curriculum, academic track record of the school, sports facilities offered and other such things but they are satisfied if the school has a bus service that reaches their doorsteps.
According to an eminent eye specialist, sharp reflexes of drivers affect their decision making capability on road. He emphasized the need to test the reflexes of drivers to be made mandatory to ensure road safety, prevent crashes and reduce road injuries. Reflexes diminish with age and time
The Supreme Court guideline also makes it mandatory for school bus owners to install speed governors but the transport operators express their helplessness as the cost of the speed governors has shot up from Rs 6,000 to Rs 12,000 because only a handful of manufacturers monopolize the market.  
These are some of the reasons why school bus accidents are so common in India that they don't make news.
Since 2000, 1,386 people have died in school bus accidents at an average of 139 fatalities per year. Most of the people who lost their lives in these crashes (72%) were occupants of other vehicles involved.
Since 2000, 130 school-age pedestrians (younger than 19) have died in school transportation-related crashes. Over two-thirds (67%) were killed by school buses, 6 percent by vehicles functioning as school buses, and 27 percent by other vehicles involved in the crashes. Almost (43%) 5-7 year old pedestrians’ in school-going age groups were killed in school transportation-related crashes.

On average, 10 school-age pedestrians are killed by school transportation vehicles (school buses and non-school bus vehicles used as school buses) each year, and 4 are killed by other vehicles involved in school bus-related crashes.

More school-age pedestrians have been killed between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. than any other time of day.

All this is hardly any consolation for the family of the three-year-old who was knocked down by school bus last year, or the six-year-old girl from Chennai who died after falling through a hole on the floor of the bus.

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