Lives at stake: revisiting road safety

We have raised the issue of automotive safety before (see Automotive safety: Crashing times and Automotive safety: Fire in the air) and have raised the issue of of automotive companies  approach towards CSR (see here and here).

While well known personalities get featured in road safety related incidents, the countless unknown Indians, who are merely reduced to a statistic, should matter more.  The CSR reports we studied mention Product Safety as a key focus area. And indeed it must be so as the prime purpose of automotive companies is to provide safe transportation. So, are enough safety measures taken to prevent such tragedies?

The WHO Global status report on road safety 2013 estimates that more than 231 000 people are killed in road traffic crashes in India every year.. There are many reasons behind these alarming accident stats like drunk driving, inadequate driving skills, violation of traffic laws, unsafe road infrastructure, unsafe vehicles,  lack of safety communication, lack of awareness and finally the behaviour of road users

Unsafe driving

One of the major factors is the behaviour of road users – motorcyclists, pedestrians, cyclists and other three-four wheeler users. Given the fact that there is very low level of awareness on safe driving skills, a lot needs to be done in terms of training and educating users of our roads- right from the school children to senior citizens. There is a bigger part that automotive companies can play in terms of how they educate, empower road users to practice and drive safely. It is evident that customers and safe driving is a missed opportunity.  Defensive driving techniques need to be imparted and perhaps that is the start of the safe driving initiative. Corporates are also experimenting with partnering traffic agencies in punitive action for flouting road safety. In some business districts in Bangalore, traffic is managed by private agencies funded by corporates. They work in close coordination with traffic police and are permitted to issue challans.

Safety in Communication

A major influential aspect is what companies are communicating to customers as well as the general public. While there have been initiatives on Road Safety from few companies, on the other hand there is increasing number of unsafe driving habits being shown in the product advertisements. There are ads which communicate safety in terms of product features, but the question that automotive companies need to answer is: Can they come up with more responsible advertisements without compromising safe driving habits? Can there be a positive change in how automotive companies communicate and advertise their products to customers. There are guidelines that international companies follow in other markets, so implementing those best practices here should be a simple thing to do.

The Opportunity

The major areas of concern when we look at urban cities in the context of road safety are

Urban Chaos – The human body is not regarded and viewed as a central point-of-reference in urban designing. Much of our infrastructure is not designed keeping in mind the ground reality or the natural geography.

Road Safety & Behaviour – Most accidents, are likely to be caused because of brazen behaviour on roads, low rule awareness and poor driving ability.

Street Ecosystem – Road Signs, Pavements, Crossings and Street furniture need a complete revamp in terms of design and applicability.

The Solution

The process of redesigning and reimagining our transport ecosystem can be a great opportunity to resolve not just road safety and manners but also urban chaos and ill designed street structures that surround all of us today. Companies can set up collaborative platforms involving children and citizens as part of their CSR activities on Road safety. The program could include core elements such as

*Involving Schools – children learn the principles of road safety and imbibe them in their value system. This can be further built up by involving both teachers as well as parents as agents of change. Innovative programs like Power of Seeing can help in creating awareness and solutions.

* Creating ground level awareness and Educational Sessions – through Driving Positive change programs. These can keep reminding citizens about the critical aspects of road safety and at the same time can be built keeping the brand ecosystem in mind.

Companies can genuinely make a difference by engaging communities, linking up sales and awareness to causes and drive positive change. Safer roads would go a long way in improving people’s lives and significantly reducing road injuries and fatalities. Whether a minister or a common man, lives are precious and must not be lost to avoidable poor road habits.

Article coauthored with Utkarsh Majmudar and originally published in Economic Times.