The findings of an international survey about road safety standards across the globe estimates that about 5 million lives will be lost due to road crashes across the globe by 2020. Now that is an extremely bothersome figure to be looking at. Bothersome enough to send the World Health Organization (WHO) into action, who eventually brought together the best of its resources and dedicated them to the cause of preventing the aforementioned monstrosity. One of the most important of all WHO initiatives relevant to the cause is the 'Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020)'. Proclaimed as a resolution in the 2010 United Nations General Assembly, the Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020) was launched on May 11, 2011 in over 110 countries with the aim of saving millions of road traffic deaths globally by improving the safety of roads and vehicles; enhancing the behaviour of road users; and improving emergency services.
This United Nations' specialized agency plays a pivotal role in guiding global efforts by continuing to advocate for road safety at the highest political levels, by compiling and disseminating good practices in prevention, and by sharing information with the public on risks and how to reduce these risks. More than anything else, a close observation of WHO's endeavours reveals that the international health agency has always concentrated its efforts in co-ordinating global efforts on road safety. They work in partnership with national and sub national stakeholders from a variety of sectors as well as NGOs and academics. And a part of this project's operation in India was the recently concluded 'National Media Workshop on Road Safety'. Held on November 27, 2012 at the Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi, the workshop's objective was to not only analyse the reporting in regional print media to understand the nature and extent of reporting on road safety issues, but also to help journalists understand their responsibility towards educating the masses and also to sensitize them to the need of more humanistic ways to deal with situations while reporting incidents.
The workshop started with Dr Etienne Krug's, Director, Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability, WHO session, where he spoke about 'road safety as a health issue'. The session included a discussion about what exactly road safety is, and then presented a summary of global road safety standards along with some statistics. Then Dr Krug went on to give an overview of the Decade of Action on Road Safety, about the program's pillars and then briefly spoke about the RS 10 project, which is a 125-million-USD programme across ten low-and middle-income countries Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mexico, Russian Federation, Turkey and Vietnam) to reduce death and serious injury on the roads.
Next up was Paramita Dasgupta, Team Leader, CMS Communications, who presented her study and analysis of the trends in print media about how road crashes are reported. The study analysed the content for relevance and where it lacks. Ms Dasgupta's session was followed by that of Satyendra Garg, Joint Comissioner of Police, Traffic, Delhi. He discussed the various existing laws relevant to road safety, then the problems in the laws, their management and also their enforcement. The final session of the day was conducted by Dr Aroona Broota, who first presented an analysis of a journalist's mindset while reporting. She then went on to discuss effective and sensitive ways of interviewing crash victims and their families.
The power of mass media and its influence on audiences across the globe is undeniable. They play a vital role for every reported accident is an opportunity for the fraternity to evoke, inform and educate their readers about the importance of road safety and emphasise the need to follow relevant safety rules, which have been established for the betterment of the society and also individuals. In order to get a better understanding of the current trends, WHO had the content of 15 newspapers from New Delhi, Jalandhar, and Hyderabad for a period of five months analysed in order to point out how exactly can media improve its relevant efforts. Delving into the trends of media coverage on road safety related aspects, it was found hat road safety was a dominant topic in only 335 news items out of a total of 2,473 pieces found on road safety. And out of those 335 pieces only 134 features, which included just three editorials, highlighted the plunging road safety standards and the importance of mandatory and stricter penalties, fines and tests for drivers.
Furthermore, the study found that no newspaper has a remarkable number of editorials, op-eds or columns as far as road safety was concerned. Some of the major linkages observed in road safety reportage were the following, the role of authorities, infrastructural issues, laws regarding traffic safety, use of precautionary measures, initiatives taken by local, state and international bodies and implementation of reformatory theory of punishment among others. The conclusion is that even though the media finds itself concerned with the state and implementation of road safety standards, it isn't pursued as often as it should be. Pro-active and persuasive news stories are the need of our times as innumerable people in the nation have lost and continue losing their lives on our roads due to either their own, or someone else's negligence.
According to the World Health Organization's Global Status Report on Road Safety – Time for Action (2009) road traffic injuries will become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030 with about 2.4 million annual fatalities globally. An analysis of the scenario of road traffic crashes in India reports that 4.97 lakh crashes take place on our roads, which roughly translates to about one crash every minute. Such disturbing figures compel us to contemplate where exactly do 'we' as a part of the society go wrong. We have all the rules, laws, and legislations in the world that ought to keep the tragic figures in check, so what went wrong? What really keeps the system from preventing such grim events is the lack of education.
Even though India's overall literacy rate stands at 74.04 per cent (2012), but that's just literacy. Are we educated enough to realise that the entire system has been created to protect us? Do we realise that the fines for offences jumping red lights, or not wearing a seat-belt or helmet is only to get us into the habit of following the laws, which basically serve the purpose of safeguarding our lives while we are on the road? In fact, most of us are very well acquainted with most traffic laws. It the society's failure to comply with such rules that implies the lack of public awareness and education. And given how rapidly the much disturbing road crash figures tend to grow with every passing day, it is of paramount importance that the most effective and quick means of awareness be adopted. And the first medium that comes to mind is 'media', for it reaches everyone, everyday.
There is no denying that the influence of media on our lives is immense. Media does not only serve the purpose of being a source of just entertainment, but also of public awareness. It helps the society form opinions on major issues of social importance. In this era of information, the impact of media on our lives can not be ignored, be it print or electronic. We, as a society, largely rely on media for effective and efficient communication. And hence the conclusion the media inadvertently plays an extensive role in informing multiple aspects of individuals’ lives. Traditional media always was, and still is, a staple of public health campaigns, which has been found to be largely effective in transmitting messages to its audience, which eventually defines and shapes their participation in society. Given the substantial role media plays in creating awareness and arousing the society into action, it is time that the media fraternity accept the responsibility handed to them by the society and jump into action right away in order to serve their very purpose. For, it is better late than never!