Road Traffic Accidents – A Serious Concern

An accident or a mishap is an “unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance, often with lack of intention or necessity.” (1) Accidents are a major cause of preventable morbidity, mortality and disability. In 2002, out of all deaths, about eight percent were due to accidents. (2) In the classification of accidents, according to the international classification of diseases, motor vehicle accidents and suicide are two major causes of accidental deaths. In the last few decades, the number of accidents is increasing very rapidly, especially road traffic accidents. Road traffic injuries are becoming a major cause of death in most countries. Road traffic accidents constitute an important cause of preventable morbidity, mortality and disability.

Out of all accidental deaths, motor vehicle accidents contribute the highest number. Current road traffic accidents rank ninth among the leading causes of death in the world. Additionally, according to WHO estimates of 2002, around 180,500 children under 15 years of age were killed as a result of road crashes. 90% of road traffic accidents were in low and middle income countries and only 10% of road traffic accidents took place in high income countries. (7) It is expected to be the second leading cause of death by the year 2020, subsequent to coronary heart disease.

In India, the trend of road traffic accidents is expected to increase, which is not only due to population explosion, but also owing to industrialization and urbanization, including motorization, predisposed by lack of awareness and safety precautions. India accounts for as high as 6% of the world’s road traffic accidents, although it has only 1% of the world’s vehicles. (9) Our country holds the highest rate of road traffic accidents in the world – one death every four minutes.

In 2010, the number of people who died in road accidents was a staggering 160,000 across the country. The accident rate in India is [s2If !is_user_logged_in()]…

[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()] about 8 per 1,000 registered vehicles. There is one death due to road traffic accidents every nine minutes worldwide: 160 a day, or 60,000 every year – 4 1/2 times as much as non-fatal accidents. The accident-specific death rate is 8 per 1,000 registered vehicles, which is 8 times the corresponding rate in the USA. (3)

In the developing countries, most of the roads are compacted with a mix of vehicles of varying speeds, sharing the same road space with vulnerable groups like children, elderly people and women. Such conditions and poor infrastructure lead to high losses of lives. On account of the nature of their occupations, males are under a higher risk of suffering from accidents than females. Among men, it is more among children and young adults. It is more with two-wheelers than four-wheelers. Pedestrians are affected most, compared to vehicle riders and drivers.

There are a number of factors which play an important role in road traffic accidents, but speeding and drunken driving are two of the main contributing factors. Alcoholism is a major factor in the causation of road traffic accidents. The population most at risk of traffic accidents are those who undergoing transition phases, like in India, where rapid socioeconomic and cultural changes are taking place. People adopt unhealthy behaviors, especially the young generation, which views drinking as a symbol of prestige and social status. This impairment due to alcohol use is the main cause of traffic accidents, which may cause severe injury to the driver, as well as other people on the road.

Excessive speed is likewise a key risk factor for road accidents, and increases severity of the injuries in the event of a crash. By driving at excessive speed, it is more likely that the rider will lose control of the vehicle or fail to anticipate hazards on the road, and it can also create confusion for other road users who misjudge the speed of his/her vehicle. Importantly, stopping time and distance for a speeding vehicle will be longer at greater speeds.

Road traffic accidents involve high human suffering as well as economic loss due to premature death, injuries, loss of productivity and so on. Unfortunately, deaths and disabilities from road traffic accidents most affect the working age group. (6)

Human beings, vehicles and the environment make up the three components of an epidemiological triad, within which safety is a shared responsibility. Road traffic accidents are a “hidden epidemic” which, though a priority, has received much less attention than it should.

Road safety further emerged as a major social concern in our country. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people can be saved every year in India by following road safety precautions. Some of these precautions include use of helmets, use of seat belts, obtaining licenses, refraining from drinking (or taking addictive drugs) while driving and so on. People are made aware that accidents are not inevitable and that they can be prevented if they follow the above precautions. Hence, for a “disease” like accidents which is spreading rapidly, health education can be used as a social vaccine.

Safety education is related to preventing road accidents. Education of the general population, especially school and college students, is very much required. Along with safety education, strict action by police to control drunken driving is extremely important to reduce unwanted deaths on the roads. Along with the prohibition of consumption of alcohol and imposition of speed limits, the majority of road accident deaths can be saved by using different gadgets like helmets by two-wheeler drivers and seat belts by the drivers and passengers of cars. Using mobile phones while driving has also been found to be a contributory factor for vehicle accidents. (5)

Safety education, safety measures, machine safety and legislative measures are essential to prevent road traffic accidents. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Let us mobilize all possible contributions to improving road safety – from city planners to vehicle designers, from policy makers to road users. Let us honor those who have lost their lives on the world’s roads by acting to save the lives of others.”(8)

Mohan Lal Jangwal Dr. Mohan Lal Jangwal, Associate Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Govt. Medical College, Amritsar

References (click to show/hide)

  1. Accident – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, -May 12, 2013.
  2. Prabhakra GN, Non-communicable diseases, Short text book of preventive and social medicine pp-168-176.
  3. Rao, B . Sridhar, Non-communicable diseases, Principles of Community Medicine, Third Edition pp. 399-402.
  4. WHO. The World Health Report 2003, shaping the future. Geneva:WHO;2003.
  5. Roberts et al:Effects of environmental factors on risk of injury of child pedestrians by motor vehicles: a case control study: BMJ 310: 91-94,1995.
  6. M Ruikar (‎2013), National statistics of road traffic accidents in India Sept. 23, 2013
  7. WHO/ World bank, World Report on road traffic injury prevention. Geneva:WHO; 2004.
  8. Secretary-General, ,United Nations. Nov 15, 2011.
  9. Singh RK, Gupta K, Kumar A, Singh GK, Singh A, Kumar S. Elucidation of risk factors in survivors of road traffic accidents in north India. Hard Tissue. 2013 Jan 14;2(1):1.


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