On April 5, 2007, while heading back home from work, Piyush Tewari got a distressed call from his father informing him that his cousin Shivam had been in a very serious road crash. About 15 minutes after that, he received another call saying Shivam had passed away. "I still remember that moment very distinctly because I was on the road and had to park on the side to take that call. After hearing that, I could not drive. I could not move. Shivam was like a son to me. It was devastating for us to lose him. I think that even today, 14 years down the line, I still struggle to recall the incident. It was a huge shock," says Tewari.
The incident pushed Piyush to study a lot more about road safety, try to understand more. "I discovered that in India, 50 per cent of injured persons died, despite having treatable injuries like in my cousin’s case. Most of it is because of bystander inaction. Despite it being such a massive issue, no one was addressing it. It was almost considered to be a natural death. So after about 10 months of researching, thinking and deliberation, I set up the SaveLIFE Foundation in February 2008".
"The biggest challenge was that the problem of road fatalities was considered to be a non-issue. It was not regarded to be serious enough even though there was data behind it. It was almost considered to be the by-product of development— the potential damage that comes with building new roads, having more vehicles, and so forth. On the contrary, this was anti-development. It was killing more poor people and the young— the most productive age group of our country, as well as causing crores of rupees in losses each year. It could not simply be stated as a cost of development. Getting across this point was a long process, but eventually, it was done," Tewari says.
The organisation’s early mission was to enable Bystander Care — the immediate care that the police and public can provide emergency victims, especially those of road crashes, to enhance their chances of survival. In 2012, it moved the Supreme Court of India to institute nationwide protection for Good Samaritans. In February 2021, Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said, India's road accident scenario is more "dangerous than COVID-19 pandemic." According to a report by the WHO, 11 per cent of global deaths due to road accidents take place in India. In the 4.5 lakh road crashes that take place on an average per annum, at least 1.5 lakh people lose their lives.
The World Bank-SaveLIFE Foundation report Traffic Crash Injuries And Disabilities: The Burden On Indian Society that came out in February 2021 also reported that 75 per cent of low-income households in India reported a decline in income as a result of a road crash. Among lower-income groups, the losses or expenses incurred due to a road crash amounted to more than seven months income. The disparity exists as the more vulnerable are forced to share road-space with the less vulnerable, the report reads.
"Lower-income families are more affected due to road crashes as the victim is more often the only breadwinner of the family. He or she then becomes financially dependent on other members of the family or other members are forced to take up additional jobs to make ends meet," Tewari says.
Karuna Raina, Director, Public Policy & Research at SaveLIFE Foundation says, "The Burden of road crashes is disproportionately prone by low-income households in comparison with high-income households as they experience deterioration in the quality of life. This is truer for lower-income households in rural areas. Low quality of life is often accompanied with psychological distress".
According to the report, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, account for 35 per cent of road crash-related fatalities in India.
KN Harilal, a member of Kerala State Planning Board and professor at Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram says, "mostly pedestrians are victims of road accidents. And if the victim is from a family that is below the poverty line, it becomes difficult for them to maintain their quality of life, especially if they lose a limb as a result of the accident, as in a lot of the cases they are everyday labourers or those living on daily wages".
The organisation utilised 150 traffic cones, 350 safety barriers, 150 spring posts, 220 road studs and over 200 litres of paint to ensure safer mobility and refuge space for vulnerable road users over nearly 12,000 square meters of the junction.
More than 12,000 people from Bhalswa, Mukundpur and Jahangirpuri were educated on road safety via 18 interactive puppet show sessions were conducted in and around Bhalswa, Mukundpur and Jahangirpuri, educating the public about safe road practices and the Tactical Redesign for Delhi ZFC. Out of these, 9 muppet shows were conducted in government schools and 9 shows were conducted in public spaces and community areas.
Given the success of the initiative, the Govt of the NCT of Delhi has requested SLF to adopt 10 more high-fatality intersections.
Another example of the foundation’s on-ground success is its Zero Fatality Corridor model, which has resulted in a 52 per cent reduction in road accident deaths on Mumbai-Pune Expressway and 54 per cent on National Highway 48. In June 2021, Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari recognized SaveLIFE Foundation and Mahindra & Mahindra efforts to make Mumbai Pune Expressway a Zero Fatality Corridor. SLF is now working with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to replicate the success of MPEW on other stretches on national highways in UP and Maharashtra.
Tewari feels strongly about the condition of the roads in India and says that roads in hilly regions lack safety barriers or they aren’t visible. He also feels that a lot of signage needs to be graphic, universal and should be understood easily by everyone. "The language needs to be simplified," he adds.
He also feels that roadways need to be redesigned to accommodate the needs of pedestrians, vendors and cyclists. And that retro-reflective zebra crossings that are visible from about a kilometre away would be more effective in preventing accidents.
Finally, he believes that there has to be a better system of filtration to determine who gets to drive and who doesn't. "A vehicle in the hands of a bad driver is a weapon," he says.