Road Safety is Good Business!
By Maxwell Pereira
mfjpkamath@gmail.com

This mid-week I visit Bangalore as a road safety ambassador to a Conference on May 17-18, 2006. Organized for transporters by Shell India in collaboration with the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) of UK – this road safety workshop proposes to discuss and adopt some minimum standards for a Road Transportation Safety Management System. The safety standards were evolved in a pilot project launched in South India by the two philanthropic agencies in January 2006 in the cause of road safety – seeking to evaluate whether or not commercial transporters could adopt a voluntary safety code of conduct for own financial and business interests.

Shell, it is leant, had successfully experimented in-house to put in place requisite policies and processes for road transportation safety, for monitoring those processes effectively and for evaluating safety performance on a regular basis – to remarkably cap the number of road safety incidents.

As part of the voluntary standards pilot project, some basic formats on systems to monitor Road Transportation Health, Safety, Security and the Environment (HSSE) were developed. A formal and mandatory safety policy for the organizations was envisaged for an integrated and effective HSSE – spelling out the commitment to safeguard people, protect movable and immovable property and manage road safety as any other critical business activity.

Why all this, you may ask me. Movement of freight and people needs to be efficient, within environmental and democratic parameters; the road transport, complementing other modes of transport – or else huge economic losses would result due to intermodal confusion and conflicts. An efficient transport system is a pre-requisite for the industrial, economic and social health of the country.

In India despite a vast network of railways, more than 70% of goods movement is by road. The sector is mostly privatised, localised and unorganised – cornered by big transporters, and manipulated by middlemen and agents, leaving high and dry the majority of the small transporters. There exist no rules or eligibility for owning a truck – anyone with money power can own a truck. No effective rules or conditions for parking and maintenance, or for carrying specified goods. No rules for its employees, no rules for their homes and nature of their welfare, financial security, medical aid, compensation, or minimum wages.

Accident studies show the vehicle driver as a very important factor in a road accident. For proper driver quality, proper training and effective licensing are basic pre-requisites. Majority of our drivers among an estimated 25-30 lakh people deployed on HTVs have had no formal training. Proper licensing and training of such truck drivers needs special attention, since in majority of road accidents, the vehicle at fault is a heavy commercial vehicle.

Truck drivers have an in-built fear of the police/ transport officials etc. mainly because they carry fake licences or have obtained licences through dubious means. Also because every single checkpoint or border post irrespective of where in our country it is, has become a collection point for palms to be greased. They often carry fake documents for evading tax, violating permit conditions; indulge in carrying over-loads, extra passengers, illicit goods; and not averse to using intoxicants – fortifying with alcohol before taking to the wheel being the thumb rule to help remove all qualms of conscience for violating road rules and regulations.

Drivers and cleaners are a depressed lot in mind and body, imbalanced from exposure to harsh climatic conditions, unhygienic food, unclean water and irregular and long hours of duty. They suffer adverse treatment at the hands of employers, civic/ toll/ police/ or transport officials, or by broken down vehicles and not the least for being away from their families, or inadequate and irregular rest.

They are exposed to diseases affecting the skin, lungs, eyes, and their heart, also leading to hearing impairment and digestive disorders. For treatment though, they have to manage at their own expense, and from unqualified doctors and quacks, often resulting in deteriorating health. In eye-tests periodically conducted, majority of them are found driving with defective eyes. All this combined with their growing reliance on the ‘spirits’ as morale boosters for undertaking arduous journeys, turn them into potential bombs with disastrous consequences. Exposed to risks in accidents too, they are often incarcerated and have to fight cases at their own expense. Also exposed to physical danger from highway robbers, dacoits and truck-jackers, in some done to death too, with their bodies more often than not going unrecognised for disposal as unclaimed.

From this kind of a lot what kind of adherence to road rules and regulations are we to expect? The massive adverse data against them and their increased involvement in fatal accidents have branded truckers an unscrupulous lot, and truck drivers of unstable mind, with lack of knowledge of road rules, with no respect for human life or other road accident victims. Indications are that only regular and proper orientation can bring improvement in their driving skills and knowledge of traffic rules and aptitude.

And so it is necessary for the transport sector and interested NGOs and stakeholders like Shell to promote awareness now severely lacking due to low level of professional standards. There is need to sensitize the lot as primary road users on issues of transport and road governance, to train them in the pick-up and maintenance, to educate them in the knowledge of road regulations and the most common violations indulged in by them, in their duties in dealing with accident victims; and to safeguard their health and other welfare issues, especially to manage their stress levels. No less, to document and collate primary data on this informal and disorganised sector, to make it more organized and strengthen interface and networking among various stakeholders and groups for the advancement of the business as a whole. Yes… promoting road safety thus, is ultimately good business!

May 15, 2006: 900 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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