Transportation of freight plays a key role in the economic and strategic development of a region, state or country. In India, the roadways are the primary means of transportation of freight and carry nearly 65 percent of the total freight of the country. Freight transport such as lorries, mini-lorries and large trucks are a common sight on all national highways. Unfortunately, it is also not an uncommon sight to see such freight transport vehicles involved in a road accident.
According to the National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NTPRC), India holds the record for the highest number of road accidents. Statistics reveal that for every 1000 vehicles in India, 35 accidents occur in a year. This figure is much lower in developed countries where the number of accidents per 1000 vehicles ranges from 4 – 10 in a year. Although freight transport vehicles are not involved in all accidents, a substantial number of lives are lost on the country’s highways every year.
Several informal studies peg the cause of accidents mostly to gross human error. Negligent and rash driving is a primary cause for accidents involving freight transport vehicles. Drunken driving is an unfortunate and prevalent practice among truck drivers in India. In some cases, drivers are expected to put in long shifts and tiredness does lead to many crashes. Another major reason for accidents involving freight transport vehicles is overloading of the vehicles so that they carry more than the authorised capacity. Transporters take advantage of loopholes in the system to cut down costs, paying little attention to safety and knowingly taking the risk of overloading their vehicles.
Stringent enforcement of laws is one solution that can help bring down the number of accidents. The driving license issuing process needs to be stricter for all and especially for drivers of commercial and freight transport vehicles. Strong measures such as strict scrutiny methods adopted at checkpoints along the national highways will help to curb the practice of overloading. The state of Bihar sets an example to follow where truck drivers and transporters are booked under criminal sections of the law for overloading freight vehicles.
Workshops about road safety can help to generate awareness among drivers and emphasize traffic rules and laws. Although lot of the blame is laid squarely on the shoulders of the lorry driver when an accident involving a freight transport vehicle happens, it must be noted that at times, the freight driver is not at the root of the crash. Speeding, drunken driving and wrongful overtaking are often perpetrated by private vehicle drivers – it is important that those road safety workshops extend to private drivers too.
It is not possible to single out a single reason for the high number of accidents involving freight transport vehicles. As such, the issues need to be dealt with in a collective manner. It is no mean task considering the enormity of the problems and the large population of India. As a start, stricter laws and a strong law enforcement process together with social reforms and awareness programs for road safety can help to bring down the number of accidents drastically and rapidly to fall in line with other developed countries.