A Licence to Save Lives
Why is road safety in India a problem?
P. T. : In Delhi, where I live, around 400,000 additional vehicles hit the road every year. That number is 2 million on a national scale. However, neither road infrastructure, nor driver training, nor construction standards are sufficient to face this growing flow of traffic. Emergency care is also very poorly organised. As a result, India is the country with the most car accidents in the world. In the last ten years, 1.2 million people died on the roads and 6 million were severely injured and handicapped. That makes almost 400 a day.
How does the SaveLife Foundation intend to improve this situation?
P. T. : First, through fieldwork. 50 % of the deaths could be avoided if the victims were taken care of quickly. So we organize basic first aid training, open to all. Then, at the legislative level, we fight for the adoption of decisions reinforcing road safety. The idea is not to take over the role of the state, but to make it evolve by being an example and by getting the necessary measures started.
How do the training sessions unfold and what do you teach volunteers?
P. T. : We have two programs. One teaches the basics for saving lives: controlling bleeding, CPR or immobilizing the spinal column. It is intended for police officers and citizen volunteers. We use mobile technologies to connect them with each other and to be able to mobilize them rapidly to the scene when a call signals an accident. We have trained 10,000 people in the last three years. The other program targets truck drivers. We teach them to drive more defensively and to prevent tragedies through videos, games and case studies. All is free and financed uniquely through donations.
And at the legislative level?
P. T. : The Indian Parliament is getting ready to adopt an important law in the domain of road safety. As a result, drivers’ licensing will be more demanding, commercial drivers will be better trained, there will be new construction norms for roads and vehicles, and more attention will be given to the most vulnerable populations. The public administration has also recently guaranteed the defense of “good Samaritans”. Concretely, a set of directives were approved to avoid legal troubles for people who help the wounded. Both of these bills were supported in India by the SaveLife Foundation.
What can be done to improve the training of drivers?
P. T. : Most of them haven’t had classes worthy of the name. Many learn at home and bribe the examiners to get their license. Our legislative work aims at reforming the entire system of training and testing so that it is professional, transparent and corruption-free. The objective is quite simply that only those who really know how to drive would have the right to do so. It is essential, since driving a vehicle is like carrying a loaded gun. A vehicle can kill when not handled by a trained person.
One of your family members, for that matter, was the victim of an accident?
P. T. : That is right. My little cousin died from his wounds after having been hit by a car. He was lying on the ground, but no help came. At the time, I was the Indian CEO of an American capital investment fund. My career was quite fulfilling, but I decided to dedicate myself full-time to road safety. I realized with fright that little had been done to fight against this public health problem which has killed one million people in India in the last ten years.
You are based in New Delhi, the capital. But what is it like in other cities and, more importantly, in the countryside?
P. T. : We are now present in five states, and are working on five more for next year. Delhi has the largest number of deaths on the road compared to other Indian cities. In recent years, this figure has been reduced by 20 %. We hope that our action will contribute to the same results in all megalopolises. In the countryside, the problem is that there is no infrastructure for crossing the highways that are near the villages. Many farmers die while trying to cross them. These individuals are often disadvantaged, and their death plunges their families into utter destitution. Improving road safety is thus also fighting against poverty and inequality.
Do you think that the situation will improve?
P. T. : Yes, I am confident of it. We are a very young democracy, and organizing the lives of 1.3 billion people is not an easy thing to do. We have brought many problems under control in terms of health care, such as polio or AIDS. Road mortality can also be reduced by means of appropriate policies combined with civic engagement. The media and public opinion are now aware of the size of the problem, while no one was even talking about it when we started our fight. In the coming years, the change could be massive.
By Côme Bastin