Indian authorities are compromising road safety in their efforts to beautify urban spaces as non-contrast colours are used on kerbs and dividers
-By Sanjay Singh Gurjar
It can be assumed without much pretence that a country, which has the dubious distinction of recording the highest number of road accidents in the world, would pay utmost importance to the issue of road safety. However, a recent move by New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) to colour kerbs and dividers pink/sandstone red and green has not gone down well with commuters, traffic controllers and organisations working for road safety alike.
The reasons forwarded by NDMC for the use of the above-mentioned colours are aesthetics and beautification of the NDMC area. The green, they say, depicts the landscape and the red touch is put to match the historical architecture of Delhi. The Opposition parties are alleging that both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre and NDMC are behind this move and this is an attempt at “saffronisation” of the city. Refuting these allegations, NDMC has said that the implemented colour scheme has been on trial from 2013 (when BJP was in Opposition) and that it has received no complaints regarding the same. “It’s kind of an aesthetic initiative,” Anant Kumar, chief engineer, NDMC, said.
These new colours are already visible in several parts of Central Delhi, such as Connaught Place and the Lutyen’s Zone. Expressing concern about NDMC’s decision, BJP’s Member of Parliament (MP) from New Delhi constituency, Meenakshi Lekhi, says, “I have recently written to NDMC on the safety hazard behind such a move. But on the contrary, they are busy painting the street side pink and green. I am extremely worried because winter is here and fog is soon going to set in. The kerbs and dividers would not be visible. I have written a letter to NDMC but there has been no response,” she adds.
Political or not, the current move by NDMC is not an act in isolation. Ruling parties across the nation are flouting road safety norms. Colouring dividers and kerbs in blue and white colour in Kolkata, West Bengal, and in ruling party colours in parts of Uttar Pradesh have already set a wrong precedence.
The standard pair or set of colours chosen for colouring kerbs and dividers and patches of the road itself needs to have high contrast between the two colours. The colour combination of red and green score poorly in comparison to yellow or white and black which were earlier chosen. It is for this specific reason that yellow or white and black are used globally and are universally recognised as standard colours for kerbs and dividers. These colour combinations have evolved after decades of international debates and conventions, starting with the first International Convention on Road and Automobile Traffic in 1909. This eventually resulted in the current guidelines in Convention on Road Traffic and on Roads Signs and Signals of 1968, (Vienna convention) of which India is a ratified member. This decision also defies the regulations defined by the Indian Road Congress (IRC 35-1997 Code of Practice for Road Markings).
With winter already here, visibility on roads will be eventually affected. The foggy conditions will make it even more difficult for the commuters. The new colour scheme puts the life of pedestrians and two wheeler riders at risk too, the two categories making up most number of road accident victims.
In India, about 135,000 people die in road accidents annually. About 1.2 million Indians were killed in car accidents over the past decade which works out to one every four minutes, while 5.5 million were seriously injured. And Delhi has the highest number of fatal accidents among all cities with five deaths per day. “These colours (red sandstone colour and green) would confuse the road users as they would not be visible at night resulting in an increase in the number of road crashes.
“Drivers struggle to remain on the road in dense fog in winters and use the kerbs and dividers as reference markers. The drivers would get confused if they happen to see red and green colours, instead of the age-old standard black and white colours. Local drivers might get used to these colours but what about the drivers coming from other parts of the country and driving in NDMC areas,” asks Harman Singh Bedi of ArriveSAFE, who himself met with an accident and has been working tirelessly for road safety since then.
Making matters worse, green and red are not visible to colour blind people. A study on Delhi drivers conducted by CSIR and Centre for Road Research Institute has shown that 17 per cent of drivers performed poorly in the colour blindness test and 6 per cent were below average or poor in the night blindness test. Green and red colours are not visible to colourblind people and, additionally, the colours that have been used in this instance are dull variants. So when the authorities took the decision to paint the kerbs and dividers red and green, not only the safety of the commuters got compromised but it breached the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 and Delhi Development Authority’s (DDA) guidelines.
When the United Nations (UN) has declared this as a decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020), which aims to stabilise and then reduce the number of road fatalities by 2020, this has not been a well thought-out move.
India, alongwith other member states and international agencies, has committed itself towards realisation of the global plan. While countries like Sweden are working on “Vision Zero” on road crashes, India seems to be working on “Zero Vision” on this important issue. Beautification is important. But some wonder how changing the colours of kerbs and dividers could achieve that. And the road infrastructure, signs and markings should not be tempered with. They should be as per the norms. This decision shows that making the roads safe is still not on the agenda of the decision makers in NDMC.
The “Safer Roads” is the second pillar of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. As India is already lagging behind in implementation of the targets, these acts may further dent India’s image and reflect New Delhi’s non-seriousness when it comes to road safety.
Thus, this move by NDMC not only undermines the purpose but also unsettles India’s position on the road safety issue. Now, NDMC has been affixing reflector strips to the dividers and kerbs to make them easier to spot, further raising the cost of ‘beautification’. However, it is to be seen whether the new arrangements will be enough to ensure a safer drive home.