The roads are arguably the most important public spaces in cities and pedestrians are its largest users,but less than 30% of urban roads in India have footpaths.In the last few years, pedestrian fatalities have accounted for 30-40% of all road accident deaths in urban areas. With an increasing number of motor vehicles and diminishing pedestrian spaces, we need to ensure the protection and rights of pedestrians on roads in India. There are severalacts that safeguard pedestrian rights indirectly. Following are the legal clauses protecting pedestrian rights on the road:
- 1. The Indian Penal Code (1860)sections 279, 304, and 336/37/38 protects the public, which includes pedestrians, against rash driving and negligence by motorists.
- 2. The Motor Vehicles Act (1988), sections 7-38 talks about penalisingthe motorists exceeding speed limits and license regulationetc, indirectly protecting vulnerable road users. Furthermore section 138 clause (h &i) empowers the state government to prevent motor vehicles from using the pavements for driving or parking.
- 3. The Rules of the Road Regulation (1989)has only three rules mentioning pedestriansor their right of way which are:
- – the duty of the driver to slow down when approaching a pedestrian crossing (Rule 8)
- – that no driver can park a motor vehicle near a traffic light or on a pedestrian crossing or a footpath (Rule 15)
- – that motor vehicles are not allowed to drive on the footpaths or cycle lane except with permission from the police officer on duty (Rule 11)
- 4. The Municipal Corporation Acts also protect public roads and streets by terming all obstructions illegal unless theyare made with the prior permission of the collector. They are entitled to ascertain the footpath width based on width of the public roads.
- 5. Under the Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act (1995), the government must provide for auditory signals, engraving on the zebra crossings, slopes in pavements for easy access of wheel chair, and warning signals at appropriate places.
Additionally, in India, agencies like the Indian Road Congress (1988) and documents like the Urban Design Plan Formulation and Implementation (UDPFI) (1996) have suggested standardizing pedestrian infrastructure based on traffic patterns, but these guidelines have largely been ignored by the implementing agencies.
Although the legislations recognising the pedestrian’s interest are fragmented, clearly, they do exist. However, their lack of implementation makes these minor provisions for pedestrian protection futile. The Law Commission in its consultation paper on “Legal Reforms to Combat Road Accidents” in 2008 mentions that there are no appropriate legislations to govern the behaviour of pedestrians and non-motorized traffic on the roads. But will it be enough to have a legislation defining the appropriate behaviour for pedestrians while the laws on protecting pedestrians and pedestrian spaces from motorized vehicles are not being enforced?
Besides these laws, the National Urban Transport Policy (2006) also suggests provisions for pedestrians but has not made it mandatory. The Draft Bill of the National Road Safety and Traffic Management Act has also suggested a separate board at the national and state level to look into road safety and provide and promote special requirements for pedestrians and the other vulnerable road users, something which has not been constituted. In spite of this, there are no considerations made for pedestrian infrastructure in the JnNURM, the country’s biggest urban infrastructure program till date. This is a glaring omission.
Actually, pedestrian rights were first mentioned in international law relevant for India in the late 1940s, but international law also seems to provide limited support for pedestrian rights. The earliest attempt by the United Nations was the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, 1949, which made a passing mention on pedestrians in Articles7 and 11. India ratified this convention. This was replaced by the Vienna Convention in 1968, which gives pedestrians the right to walk on the carriageway in the absence of a pavement or on satisfying other conditions under Article 20, Para 2 &3. But the Vienna Convention also does not mandate the government to construct pavements or apportion a part of carriageway only to pedestrians, perhaps because of which the state tends to ignore the building of pavements. Article 20, para 6c& d suggests that pedestrians should not impede traffic while crossing the road, thus restricting their right to the road. On the whole, the convention fails to recognise the pedestrian as an important road user and has indirectly suggested participating countries to impose stricter rules on the pedestrian while crossing.The International Transport Forum at the Organisation for Economic and Co-operation and Development (OECD) in their recent report on pedestrian safety, urban space and health has analysed the issues that pedestrians face and has strongly recommended concerned authorities to strategize and improve pedestrian infrastructure and create guidelines to facilitate pedestrian and non motorised movement.
The International Federation of Pedestrians has been explicitly advocating the right to walk in public spaces as a basic human right, and has been pro-actively working with the UN-ECE (European regional organisation of the United Nations)to enhance pedestrian safety. Besides this, there are many reports on road safety by several organisations suggesting safer pedestrian routes, traffic calming measures, low cost remedial measures, construction of central refuges, and creating basic pedestrian infrastructure. The World Health Organization recently took up a campaign to recognize the impact of road accidents on mortality and morbidity rates in the world, especially in developing countries, and attempted to push countries to taking action to prevent pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
Mounting motor vehicle traffic in all cities has put pressureon the Indian government to increase narrow road spaces by creating flyovers, declaring roads as one-ways, and widening the carriageway,actions that eat into the already limited footpath. Europe and the United States of America have seen similar problems and have reacted by slowly prioritizing people over motor vehicles. For example, the European Parliament in their 1988 Charter of Pedestrian Rights acknowledged the right of pedestrians to live in a healthy environment and passed a regulation proposing changes in the design of motor vehicles to ensure more safety to pedestrians. Withsuch changes, developed nations have made their roads not just pedestrian friendly but also more liveable. Since every journey begins and ends with a walk, we as pedestrians should demand and exercise our rights on the road in India as well.
Traffic and transportation policies and strategies in Urban areas in India, Wilbur Smith and Ministry of Urban Development.
Written by Roshan Toshniwal, Researcher, Transparent Chennai