Ensuring resting sites and keeping truckers stress-free can bring down casualties: Experts

PTI, Jan 15, 2020, 10:18 AM IST

New Delhi: Truck drivers form the biggest chunk of national highways users in India and also the “most vulnerable” to road crashes, experts say and believe that ensuring proper resting sites for them on the route and keeping them stress-free could bring down casualties.

Over 2,10,000 lives have been lost on national highways between 2015 and 2018, according to data from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH).

Accident-related deaths in 2018 stood at 1,51,417, showing an increase of 2.3 per cent over 2017. About 85 per cent of these deaths happen in the most productive age group of 18-60, it stated.

NHs form 1.94 per cent of the total road network in India but accounted for 30.2 per cent of total road crashes and 35.7 per cent of deaths in 2018. State Highways which account for 2.97 per cent of the road length accounted for 25.2 per cent and 26.8 per cent of crashes and deaths, respectively, the data showed.

Other roads which constitute about 95.1 per cent of the total roads were responsible for the balance 45 per cent of accidents and 38 per cent deaths, respectively, it stated.

Transporters identified the need for improvements in highway designing like fencing, signages, and crash barriers while medical experts said casualties could be curtailed if the first responders, who are generally laying people and not medics, are equipped with training in basic life support system.

Around 80 lakh registered trucks are in the country and the number of drivers is a little short of that, according to All India Transporters’ Welfare Association (AITWA), an apex body of truckers’ association. The body said there was no authentic data available for the number of truck crashes on highways and resultant fatalities and it relied on MoRTH data.

The MoRTH data showed the number of accidents on NHs has come down slightly from 1,42,268 in 2015, 1,42,359 in 2016, 1,41,466 in 2017 to 1,40,843 in 2018 but the fatalities have gone up steadily from 51,204 in 2015, 52,075 in 2016, 53,181 in 2017 to 54,046 in 2018.

Another 5,74,871 people suffered injuries, several of them life-altering, during crashes on highways and expressways, it added.

“Error could be on the part of truck drivers or a car user, who is out on highway zigzagging at a high speed on different lanes but both suffer. Another problem is highways across India are largely open and sudden entry of an animal can lead to a crash. The government needs to take care of that and public be educated about lane driving and use of highways,” AITWA president Mahendra Arya told PTI.

Another significant problem is the stress that some drivers go through because of sleep deprivation, inadequate rest, or worrying about the consignment or their own security while on the road.

“They do not have any proper resting place or washrooms. They stop at dhabas for food and catch up on some sleep during that time while also worrying if the ‘maal’ on their truck would be safe if somebody would steal diesel from their vehicles. At times they run behind schedule and that worries them, or some companies offer incentives to drivers for quick delivery and that stresses them out,” Arya said.

“There are times when road transport officers or local officials at toll plazas misbehave with them on the roads. They don’t allow them to proceed and harass for hours in order to get money from them,” he claimed.

“It is not that the government is not doing anything. They have done a lot and the MoRTH under Nitin Gadkari has shown the will and improved quality of roads,” Arya said.

Handling a crash patient in the ‘golden hour’ (the first 60 minutes) till he or she reaches a trauma facility holds the key for their survival, they said.

“We have ‘abysmally low’ level of training in basic life support system. Usually, on the highways it is the nearby paan-wala or dhaba-walas who are the first responders to an accident. It is essential to educate the truck drivers, their helpers and the common public in general on how to provide life support to a patient till the ambulance arrives or the patient is hospitalised,” said Dr M C Mishra, former director of AIIMS, Delhi and its trauma centre.

“You may be taught how to use the skills today and may not require it for next two years. But to be prepared all the time, such training is required often. Also, people using highways need to be educated about lane driving, signages, over-speeding, etc. There are several factors that lead to casualties. Sometimes truck drivers drive for continuous 15-16 hours and consume tobacco and liquor too,” he added.

Basic life support comprises an initial assessment of the situation, preventing bleeding, then airway maintenance, chest compression and expired air ventilation (rescue breathing), among others, according to experts.

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