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Traffic deaths: Researchers suggest India’s stats are way too low

A positive attitude helps on these roads (Credit: Tom Paulson)

The actual statistics on the number of people hurt or killed in road accidents in India is higher than official statistics, according to researchers who say that the government is undercounting pedestrian and motorcycle deaths. According to a study published today in the medical journal BMJ, that pedestrian deaths could be more than twice as high as current estimates.

“Our analysis reveals that there is a serious problem with police reporting of road traffic death statistics in India – deaths of vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists) are substantially under-represented, while deaths of car occupants, buses and trucks are over-represented,” the authors wrote. “These statistics have the potential to substantially misdirect road safety efforts in India. Furthermore, because of India’s large population, they threaten to bias global policy discussions as well.”

According to the official reports, pedestrians make up 9 percent of traffic deaths. In other low- and middle-income countries that rate is closer to 40 percent. The study’s authors looked at the district of Belagum to illustrate the disparity. The government data for the district show that pedestrians make up 9 percent of total traffic deaths. But researchers reviewed First Information Reports filed by the police, which put the figure at 21 percent. The results were similar for motorcycle death rates. The government reports that they represent 37 percent of total traffic deaths, but First Information Reports put it at nearly 50 percent for the district.

There are limitations to the research: It is only based on the largest district in the country and looks at data from 2013 and 2014. But the authors said it is reasonable to believe that the significant discrepancies seen in the one district are likely to be found across the country. It matters greatly when thinking about the public policy implications of such information.

“Official tabulations of traffic deaths in India do not correctly represent the types of roads users killed. Until the Indian National Crime Records Bureau has corrected the process of generating statistical tabulations from police reports, data on the types of road users killed in India should not be used for research and policy,” the researchers wrote.

Road deaths don’t get a lot of attention as a health problem that overwhelmingly affects people in developing countries. In fact, the rate of road fatalities is twice as high in low-income countries than in high-income ones. The 1.5 million people who died from injuries and pollution caused by motorized vehicles was more than the number of people killed by HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria.

Given the scope of the problem and the particular burden on low- and middle-income countries, good data is essential for improving policy. But according to the authors of the report, current data by the Indian government is too shaky and should not be considered.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]