The World Health Organization’s (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. Vulnerable road users, like motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians account for around half of these fatalities. This high number is due to a combination of factors.
On Indian roads, one sees a mix of high-speed vehicles, commercial vehicles, and vulnerable road users. Combine this with poor road infrastructure, including the absence of street lights, and vehicles in poor conditions of maintenance, and the result is this significantly high number of road fatalities.
Road safety initiatives
In 2012, WHO conducted a review of existing laws and regulations within the Government of India’s Motor Vehicles Act, with a particular focus on drink–driving and the wearing of motorcycle helmets. In December 2013, the WHO supported a high-level meeting on road safety to enhance advocacy for proposed amendments to the country’s Motor Vehicles Act.
Many organisations – government, non-government and corporate – have been working to address the issue of fatalities due to road traffic crashes on Indian roads. There is, for instance, the Institute of Road Safety & Fleet Management (IRSM), which works to promote safety and the prevention of road incidents. IRSM, citing studies, states that over 90% of road collisions in India are caused due to drivers’ negligence and error. Research has also pointed out that most of the road incidents are preventable by establishing measures that improve driving, vehicles and road environments.
Corporate organisations such as Shell too have their own initiatives, such as Safe Fleets. This is an initiative to prevent death or injuries caused by road traffic incidents, through the implementation of Road Transport Safety Management systems in organisations. Shell’s initiative has two programmes: the one addressing the welfare of employees in the corporate sector is known as People moving People; the other is for the welfare of the logistics sector, known as the People moving Goods programme.
According to the Government of India, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways Research Wing, the year 2011 alone saw 142,485 people killed on the road. Out of the same data, 110,461 incidents involved commercial vehicles, and the sharpest increase in the number of deaths was in the twilight time (before sunrise and after sunset) with 77% occurring due to driver negligence.
Recently, German automotive supplier Henkel’s Indian unit, Henkel Adhesive Technologies, launched a road safety campaign across its fleet in collaboration with leading transporters and heavy vehicle movers in India. The aim of this fleet-led initiative is to address the issue of safety standards on Indian roads, to curb fatalities and collisions. The company hopes that the Go Safe with Henkel Campaign on Road Safety will create a behavioural shift amongst transporters and heavy vehicle operators.
Megatrends discussed this campaign, as well as other issues that affect the safety and efficiency of the logistics segment in India, with Jeremy Hunter, President, Henkel India. According to Hunter, this is a first step towards education, training and building awareness at the basic level in the hope that in years to come, there will be a systematic safe system approach in the way commercial vehicles move in the country.
“We don’t want our contractors or pedestrians or passers-by getting killed as a result of deliveries. So it’s very important to us that we act responsibly and try to raise the standards a little bit in terms of what our contractors do and in terms of what their transporters are doing. A life lost is a life lost; it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Henkel employee or a customer, it’s still a tragedy for us,” Hunter says, on how this campaign came about.
Henkel India has launched this campaign to both its employees as well as its transport contractors. The company believes that in general, people are all aware of the hazards and dangers, and so it is working on specifics, such as the causes. At the launch of the campaign, the supplier has given its transport contractors certain principles that, for the company, are non-negotiable.
Key aspects of the campaign
Towards this, the company has identified five key points – respect and follow traffic regulations; drive defensively and think ahead; never drive at night; never drive under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, and ensure that the documentation and the maintenance, the tyres and all of the safety aspects of the vehicle are always looked after.
“We’re viewing this as a journey which could take us five years or it could take us ten years…The only way we can change behaviour on a consistent daily basis is by continuing to educate, continuing to try and raise the standard of the transport community that we interact with,” Hunter said.
Although Henkel is a global organisation, this road safety campaign is specific to India. There are, however, similar initiatives in other parts of the world as well. Hunter says the company has concerns in Southeast Asia and Latin America. A campaign of this sort is something that Henkel is likely to replicate in other markets.
Are causes specific to India?
An obvious question, then, is what leads to such a high rate of fatalities on Indian roads. For instance, the level of infrastructure with regard to Indian roads could play a part, as could the state of the vehicles on the country’s roads. “We start from the premise that all accidents are avoidable. It would be very easy to blame the roads or blame the vehicles or whatever, but I think, in the end, it comes down to education and it comes down to behaviour.”
Hunter cites an example of drivers being given incentives to deliver products more quickly, which naturally encourages them to drive faster, take more risks, drive when they are tired, etc. What emerges from this is that if one incentivises the wrong behaviour, then that will lead to the wrong result.
“There is a gap in terms of education and behaviour that we’re trying to close, really. I don’t think there is a fundamental issue with Indian roads or Indian vehicles that means that we can’t avoid any of this,” Hunter tells us. However, an improvement in the infrastructure would certainly help the industry, he feels, such as the quality of the roads.
“The idea of all of this is that we become an attractive customer for our transports because we respect the fact that they need to be safe, they need to arrive safely. We reward them for doing the right things.”
While the can-do attitude in Indian industry is a positive, Hunter feels that by squeezing the margins on these contractors too much, suppliers put them under pressure for factors such as safety, efficiency and maintenance.
The campaign having been launched and the first steps having been taken, the next stage for Henkel in this initiative is to try to work with each of its contractors on how the company can help them improve their operations. And the company acknowledges that such an initiative will not bear fruit overnight.
“We have logistics experts, we have safety experts, and our plan is that we will undertake audits and training sessions and so on with each of our key contractors, to try to raise the standard in their operation as we go forward,” Hunter says.