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Let’s join hands to make roads safe for pedestrians

The right to walk is aimed at ensuring freedom of movement and access to public spaces.

Let’s join hands to make roads safe for pedestrians

ALARMING: Pedestrians are nine times more at risk of death than car occupants. Tribune photo

Navdeep Asija & Sharad Satya Chauhan

Navdeep Asija Traffic Adviser, Punjab & Sharad Satya Chauhan MD, Punjab Police Housing Corporation

GURU Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, preached the principles of equality, compassion and service to humanity. His teachings hold immense relevance in today’s context, particularly when it comes to pedestrian safety. Walking, a universal act embraced by people from all walks of life, symbolises equality by allowing individuals to share the same space and exercise their right to move freely. Guru Nanak not only espoused these values but also demonstrated them through his actions. One remarkable aspect of his journeys was that he predominantly travelled on foot, covering long distances in all directions. By recognising the significance of pedestrian safety, we honour the Guru’s teachings and promote a society where every person can walk the streets with dignity.

According to the WHO’s report on pedestrian safety, pedestrian deaths have risen globally at nearly twice the rate of road mishap deaths — a 12.9 per cent increase from 2013 to 2016, compared with 6.6 per cent increase for other road users; for every kilometre travelled, pedestrians are nine times more at risk of death than car occupants.

The safety of pedestrians has emerged as a critical concern in our nation. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s report (2021), the number of annual fatalities of pedestrians was 18,900. This translates to an alarming average of 51 pedestrian deaths per day. Sadly, this distressing reality is not confined to urban areas alone but also affects rural regions across the country.

The situation is particularly alarming in Punjab. Statistics reveal that a majority of road accident victims in the state are pedestrians and cyclists. In urban areas of Punjab, over 50 per cent of road accident fatalities in recent years have involved pedestrians. More than 1,100 pedestrian deaths were reported on various roads of the state in 2022. Recognising this pressing issue, it becomes evident that pedestrian safety plays a pivotal role in reducing the overall number of road accident fatalities.

Most of the pedestrians involved in road crashes are in the productive age group. Many of them are the breadwinners of their families and belong to the lowest socio-economic stratum of society.

The concept of ‘the right to walk’ is firmly rooted in the principles of human rights, ensuring freedom of movement and access to public spaces. Recognising its importance, the high courts and the Supreme Court have delivered judgments emphasising pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and prioritising pedestrian safety. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has played a crucial role in safeguarding pedestrian rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. Similarly, the SC, in the case of Davinder Singh Negi vs Union of India and others, issued significant interim orders supporting pedestrian rights. These legal interventions aim to rectify biases in road infrastructure development that favoured motorised traffic over pedestrians. By upholding the right to walk, we ensure safer roads and promote inclusivity. The ‘Right to Walk’ initiative builds upon these court orders, strengthening the government’s resolve to create safe and accessible walking infrastructure. Investing in well-designed footpaths, pedestrian crossings and cycling lanes is aimed at enhancing urban mobility, promote healthier transportation and foster inclusivity.

It is imperative that we prioritise pedestrian safety. Road accidents pose a significant threat to the lives of pedestrians, while inadequate infrastructure and poor road design hinder their mobility and compromise their safety. This has a direct impact on their physical activity and well-being, as well as the overall health of the community.

To address these concerns, it is crucial for the government and relevant stakeholders to adopt a holistic approach. This involves implementing comprehensive policies, ensuring better infrastructure design, conducting safety audits of existing and proposed infrastructure and promoting public awareness campaigns. Additionally, collaboration among various departments, such as transportation, urban planning, law enforcement and education, is vital to creating a safer pedestrian environment.

By embracing pedestrian safety as a key aspect of urban planning and transportation policies, we can create a safer future for everyone. Improved infrastructure, enhanced enforcement of traffic regulations and public education initiatives can contribute towards reducing accidents and making streets pedestrian-friendly. Let’s work together to prioritise pedestrian safety, ensuring that walking becomes a safe, accessible and enjoyable experience for all.

The journey towards pedestrian safety and the promotion of the right to walk in Punjab began in 2019 during the commemoration of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

It is time for the state and Central governments to join hands and take this issue to the international stage. We propose that the United Nations should declare an ‘International Pedestrian Safety Day’ during the UN Global Road Safety Week to emphasise the importance of pedestrian safety. Such a declaration would not only honour the teachings of Guru Nanak, but also demonstrate our commitment to creating a society where walking is safe.

Political leaders should champion this cause and allocate necessary resources to improve pedestrian infrastructure, enforce traffic regulations and raise awareness about pedestrian safety.

In our ever-changing world, prioritising pedestrian safety can have a profound positive impact. Imagine streets where pedestrians feel secure, accidents decrease and a vibrant life flourishes with confidence. Emphasising pedestrian safety promotes healthier lifestyles and benefits individuals and communities alike.

In alignment with the UN Global Road Safety Week, initiated in 2007 to raise global road safety awareness, there is a need to focus on young road users and their over-representation in accidents. The motto ‘Road Safety is No Accident’ drives this pivotal movement.

Let pedestrian safety be the cornerstone of thriving communities worldwide.

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