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The WHO's Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013 estimates that more than 231,000 people are killed in road traffic crashes in India every year. Actual numbers will be much higher, since legitimate accident data is this country is disgracefully scarce. If we don't do anything about this shocking situation, these ever-escalating road accident fatalities are going to skyrocket out of control, and roads will become even more of a war zone than they already are. So let's begin getting the message out. In addition to improving the licensing system and seriously implementing road rules, it's time road safety education is incorporated into our National School Curriculum, as is so in several other countries.
A major problem today is that every new generation of road users does not have a trustworthy system to rely on for road safety education, and instead learn from the previous generation (who often possess woefully inadequate and flawed knowledge of correct road practices themselves) or through their own 'experience'. This vicious circle begins with every person who starts using the road, since no one, not the government nor any independent authority, seems to be doing anything serious about this critical situation.
Our disregard for road safety needs to be curbed at school level, not the nearest hospital level. Because if we don't begin making a change now, it will be too late. India's cars and motorcycles are only getting faster and more powerful with every passing day, but our attitude towards road safety is far from progressing. In developed countries, road safety education begins in one way or the other during school, so by the time children graduate, they already have an understanding of road and traffic situations and are better prepared to take on the responsibilities of safe road usage. This is reflected in extremely low fatality rates from road accidents. Japan, for instance, had 4,411 road accident-related deaths in 2012.
While Japan may not directly incorporate road safety into schools, how the Japanese government tackles road safety education for children is truly unique. There are driving schools set up only for children - these teach road rules and safety in a fun and engaging way, yet is supremely effective in preparing youngsters to eventually take the wheel. Children are taught how to drive in purpose-built go-karts, motorised for older children and electric for the younger ones, on special tracks that simulate road conditions. These karts come fitted with indicators, rear view mirrors, and the such, and prepare kids with key road safety lessons, culminating in the issue of a special children's license when the course is completed. Similar schools can be set up in India, maybe in conjunction with theory courses taught in the classrooms.
In France and Spain, road safety education forms part of the official National Curriculum for primary and secondary schools. France sees secondary school students aged 12 compulsorily studying for a road safety certificate (ASSR) which covers pedestrian and two-wheeler safety. When they turn 16, children have to pass another ASSR which covers wider road safety. Spain, on the other hand, incorporates road safety into school curricula through a subject teacher. Some Scandanavian countries too, have adopted road safety instruction into their curricula. The aforementioned countries all have something in common - they treat road safety as it should be treated, which is as a matter of life and death.
So why can't we teach our young ones the importance of road safety? It's quite simple, we can't because we don't realise its importance ourselves. No one instructed us when we were obtaining our licenses back in the day, but then again, the road situation was very different back then. We had Maruti 800s and Fiats and Ambassadors, and road traffic situations were quite unlike they are now, post the motorisation boom of India today.
If indeed, road safety education is put into practice in this country, it must be implemented right. There is no point in an Environmental Science teacher instructing students about road safety, for example, if the teacher is not fully aware of the correct practices of modern road usage. What the government could do is create an influx of foreign staff experienced in this kind of specialised instruction to work closely with and train our teachers. Maybe even organise exchange programmes for teachers involved with road safety education, as this could be a way of motivating our teachers to take road safety seriously themselves after recognising its importance and effectiveness in these countries. Successful organisations like Road Safety Education Limited from Australia could also be invited to India to conduct awareness programmes for teachers about this subject, since our potential instructors would need to be effectively informed first in order to properly educate (and convince) students about why road safety needs to be taken seriously.
Agreed, road safety education alone is not going to solve the grossly mishandled cause of road safety in this country, but it would be a start. India needs a collective awakening across all levels in relation to this subject - how long are we going to tolerate traumatic news about the death of a near and dear one in a road accident, and not do a thing to change our country's mindset? People wear seatbelts now, more or less. That's changed for the better. Let's take it further, India. Let's sow the seeds of sanity while they can still grow.