Thursday, June 02, 2011

Indian traffic fatalities compared to the US

A friend of ours was involved in a car accident recently. Car collisions are very common in India, most Indians know a friend who has been in a car collision, usually with horrific outcomes. For the number of cars in India, the fatality rate is unusually high.  Here are the numbers.

In 2009, India had roughly 114,000 road fatalities, and roughly 12.3 million vehicles. The fatality per vehicle in India is roughly 114/12300 = 0.0093 or roughly 0.01. For every hundred cars, there is one fatality.

For comparison, in 2007, the US had 41,000 road fatalities, and 254 million vehicles. The fatality per vehicle is .00016, or roughly 0.0002. For every ten thousand cars in the US, there are two fatalities.

The two rates are off by a factor of fifty! For every fifty cars that are involved in a fatal accident in India, one car is involved in a fatal accident in the US.

This glosses over some key differences, like occupancy of individual cars. Vehicles in the US have one or two passengers, while Indian vehicles are more likely to have three or more people. But even that cannot account for the huge difference. Even assuming that Indian cars have twice the number of passengers, you are twenty five times more likely to die on the road in India than in the US. This number is still very large. When you account for average speeds (significantly lower in India), the numbers look even worse. Driving at higher speeds is inherently more dangerous, and the speed of traffic in the US is much higher than in India. All put together, the factor of fifty is still too high.

One key difference between the US and India is that traffic laws are not enforced in India and are thus not followed. Here is an example of the chaos that ensues: cars on the wrong side of the road, drivers rushing past a stop light, and confusion at every intersection. Policemen can be bribed with small currency: Rs.200 ($4) settles most matters. Many drivers have forged licenses, and even the official driving test doesn't ensure that the driver knows all the rules.

In comparison, even in the worst traffic in the US: Los Angeles at rush hour, everyone follows the rules, there's nobody coming in the wrong direction. Nobody splits lanes, and even though it is frustrating, people follow the rules. Driving in LA isn't fun: the drivers can be edgy and rash, but even at its worst, the traffic is a lot more sane than on Indian roads.

It's no wonder that the fatality rate is so high in India.