NEW DELHI: India’s transport ministry admitted it has so far failed to improve road safety but said it was pushing for stricter laws, as new figures revealed 17 people die in traffic accidents every hour.
Transport minister Nitin Gadkari acknowledged an urgent need to improve road infrastructure as the numbers showed traffic accidents were one of the single biggest causes of death in India.
The report found 146,133 people died in 501,423 road accidents in 2015, an increase of almost five percent from 2014, while half a million more were injured.
Nearly eight in ten accidents were caused by drivers, with 62 percent of those blamed on speeding.
“Accidents are killing more people in India than terrorism or natural disasters and yet we never talk about them,” Gadkari said at a press conference to mark the release of the report.
“It saddens me that there has been a negligible impact on reducing the number of deaths despite our best efforts in the past two years,” he said.
Gadkari said the ministry was working to expand the country’s highway network from 96,000 to 200,000 kilometres (60,000 to 124,000 miles) to ease the burden on crumbling roads.
Road accidents shave three percent off the country’s GDP every year, the minister said.
The ministry said it is focusing on improving poorly designed roads and identifying black spots, and plans to deploy electronic surveillance to deter traffic offences.
It is consulting state governments over a new road safety bill, which will be tabled in the next parliament session.
The proposed law would crack down on traffic offences and suggests steep penalties for offenders, including minimum seven-year jail terms in accidents that result in deaths.
Transport analysts blame India’s high numbers of road accidents on poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving, as well as inadequate road safety laws.
Some 30 percent of Indian driving licences are believed to be fake, the government has said.
India owns just one percent of the world’s vehicles but accounts for 15 percent of global traffic deaths, according to the World Bank.