Death on the road: can Mumbai shed its reputation as the ‘car crash capital’?
One person is killed on Mumbai’s roads every 15 hours. In an attempt to get a grip on the chaos, the police are going digital – recording fines electronically and installing CCTV. But will it stop people taking risks?
Vidhi Doshi in Mumbai
Tuesday 3 January 2017 07.15 GMT
For 30 minutes after she was hit, Archana Pandya lay bleeding on a road in the busy Mumbai suburb of Goregaon. The 22-year-old, who had just started a new job, was on her way home from work when she was the victim of a hit-and-run. She died of her injuries. “There were a lot of people there, and it happened right opposite a police station, but no one came forward to help,” says her brother Siddharth Pandya. “It’s not the roads; in India, it’s the people that are unsafe.”
Pandya was one of 586 people killed in road accidents in Mumbai in 2015, the equivalent of one death every 15 hours. Another 2,034 were seriously injured. The long response times of ambulances and emergency vehicles, coupled with the unwillingness of bystanders to help road victims for fear of being detained by police and hospitals, contribute to slow, painful deaths for hundreds of people every year. As a result, Mumbai – a city with roughly the same number of cars as London, but more than four times the number of road fatalities – has become known as India’s “crash capital”. In 2015 there were 23,468 recorded traffic collisions: the highest in the country.
The city’s urban geography has helped breed a culture of reckless driving. Cars zigzag through dense traffic jams, cutting lanes, overtaking from the left or zipping past red lights. Drivers know that the penalties are small and the chances of getting caught are low. Many scoff at the idea of wearing a seatbelt, while others casually take phone calls and answer text messages as they navigate through the maze of cars.
These lax attitudes and dangerous driving habits are spawned right from the driving test, which exists mostly as a formality and is easily smoothed with a small bribe. Aditi Deopujari, a Mumbai resident who got her driving licence in 2000, explains: “I was part of a driving school that had a setup with the Motor Vehicles Department [which issues licences]. I showed up and had some practice rounds, but never had to sit the exam or had any written test regarding the rules. I just got handed the licence.” Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, says: “I literally had to drive five metres forward, and then five metres reverse. That was it, I passed.”