Background: Road traffic injuries contribute substantially to the disease burden in India. This paper describes the road safety issues discussed by members of the Indian Parliament, and highlights the gaps that need to be addressed to make road safety visible as a public health problem to policy-makers in India.
Methods: All questions asked to and information provided by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, and questions relating to accident asked to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of the Government of India were reviewed for the two Houses of the Indian Parliament for the years 2002 to 2004.
Results: Of the 1529 questions asked to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, only 140 (9.1%) were related to road safety, whereas 1076 (70.5%), 181 (11.8%), 51 (3.3%) and 81 (5.3%) were related to other aspects of the national highways, state roads, vehicles and other issues, respectively. Data on the magnitude of road crashes dealt only with the number of crashes and fatalities and not with the age, sex and type of road users affected by road traffic injuries. The parliamentarians were informed that human error was the main cause of road crashes in India; however, the robustness of this information is questionable. Strategies to prevent road crashes focused mainly on training of drivers with little attention to other factors that cause road crashes. The discussion on legislations also focused on drivers, ignoring other road users. Ten of the 4741 questions (0.2%) asked to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare were related to accident, the majority of which were about the setting up of trauma care services.
Conclusion: An appropriate policy and intervention response by policy-makers is not possible with data that are presented in a manner that do not highlight the true nature of the problem, and are neither comprehensive nor robust. Majority of the proposed road safety interventions by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways are based on the traditional view of human error as a major cause of road crashes highlighting the lack of a scientific public health approach towards prevention of road crashes. It would be useful to build the technical capacity of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in road safety to use the available data more effectively, and to facilitate generation of further relevant data about the magnitude, underlying causes and impact of road traffic injuries, for policy-makers to better understand the critical issues for planning effective road safety policies and interventions to reduce the high burden of mortality and morbidity due to road crashes in India.