14 May 2023  |   05:38am IST

Blood on the asphalt: The high toll of Goa's lethal combination of speed, recklessness and poor infra

Road safety has become a pressing issue in Goa, as the number of fatalities and casualties due to road accidents continues to rise. The reasons for such accidents are manifold, including reckless driving, drunk driving, poor road conditions, and lack of awareness about traffic rules and regulations. While the government has taken some measures to address these issues, such as promoting the use of helmets and seat belts and cracking down on drunk driving, much more needs to be done to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians alike. In this week’s edition of Herald TV’s debate ‘Point-Counterpoint’, Sujay Gupta delves into the details with law enforcers and activists, to discuss measures that could be taken to prevent further tragedies on Goa's roads.
Blood on the asphalt: The high toll of Goa's lethal combination of speed, recklessness and poor infra

Overconfidence and negligence of Goan drivers and riders have been the primary cause of the increasing number of accidents in Goa, according to Bossuet Silva, SP Traffic of Goa Police. “We have switched from two lanes to four or six lanes, but the drivers do not have lane discipline,” says Silva. “The slow drivers or riders have to take the extreme left, but many take the right.”

Silva also highlights the need for more breaks in medians, citing an accident that occurred a few months ago where a two-wheeler rider was killed while attempting to cross from the left lane through a break in the median without giving any signal.

The lack of helmet discipline in Goa has also been a concern. Silva notes that many riders in Goa have a notion that helmets are only for police to avoid police challenges. To tackle this issue, the police have started teaching people how to strap helmets properly. “If a rider is not going to strap his helmet on properly, he may as well not wear it. It is imperative that riders and pillions wear good quality helmets as well,” he says.  Many helmets sold by roadside vendors are not ISI marked and are either duplicate or substandard. Silva stresses the importance of using branded helmets that are ISI certified with visors.

Silva revealed some statistics on accidents in the current period from January to April. “Of the 97 motorcyclists who died, 80% were without helmets,” he said. “All the pillion riders who died were also without helmets.”

When it comes to enforcement, Silva admits that the manpower is short, and the police are using home guards for regulating traffic. He mentioned that after the implementation of amended rules, the number of Enforcement Officers has dwindled down from around 170 to just 75. Despite this, the police have managed to increase enforcement figures compared to last year, mainly through traffic education in schools.

Silva emphasized the need to act on the suggestions given by the Supreme Court committee on road safety to increase manpower and enforcement efforts. “We are covering highways, MDRs, and the interior roads,” he said. “Earlier, head constables could challan for those riding without a helmet, but now, fines have increased, and it is only DySP and inspectors, assistant motor vehicle assistant sub-inspectors upwards who can do so.”

Dr MadhuGodkirekar, an Associate Professor of Forensic Medicine at GMC, shed light on the alarming state of road safety in India. “The first global accident took place in 1920,” he stated, emphasizing that accidents have been a problem for over a century. However, the situation seems to have worsened, as she described the experience of a new “Yamraj” in 2023 - a reference to the Hindu god of death - who has been around for centuries.

The lack of proper road culture has led to reckless behaviour on the roads, he added.

The result is chaos and danger on the roads, as drivers park wherever they want and go to do shopping, without a care that they are blocking traffic, as well as the way for pedestrians . “These senseless drivers, when called out, resort to abusing everyone, including the police,” Dr Godkirekar stated. “I would say that 90 percent of these road accident deaths are like suicides. The definition of an accident, is that it is not intentional, and cannot be construed as suicide or murder. However, with their reckless and negligent driving, people seem to be headed towards accidents and even death,” he remarked.

In an effort to improve road safety and reduce fatalities, Silva reports that a new POS machine has been introduced to check the history of offenders. In the meantime, insurance provider Bajaj Allianz has filed a case in the Supreme Court to enhance premiums for traffic offenses. Three offenses will now result in a suspension of a driver’s license, initially for six months, and then possibly for a number of years. Underage driving is now also considered a serious offense, and parents, guardians, or vehicle owners must be produced before the Child Welfare Committee. A designated juvenile officer will prepare a report to deal with such matters. Section 199 of the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act stipulates that errant children will not be granted a license until they are 25, and a fine of Rs 25,000 must be paid by the parents, guardian, or owner of the vehicle. If tried and convicted, the adult responsible for the child and the vehicle may also be given a prison sentence.

Roland Martins, Convenor of the Goa Consumer Action Network (GOACAN), an NGO that deals with consumer and civic issues, emphasizes that the community must also take responsibility for road safety. In 2005, the community had not recognized its responsibility for road safety; however, the government has pushed for every panchayat to have a road safety and traffic management committee since 2011. Every municipality should also have a committee to address the issue. Martins emphasizes the need for a lead agency that acts as an umbrella organization, with all departments as joint stakeholders.

Martins further stresses the importance of community involvement in road safety. He notes that driving schools, licensing procedures, and the role of touts in the process must all be examined. Although audit teams have reviewed all driving schools, the community must take responsibility for sending their children to safe schools.

Silva echoes his sentiments, adding, “A lot of Goans do not want to undergo these driving tests. They feel that with their contacts, they can get the license. This is disastrous,” says the police officer.

PrashantNaik, the Chairman of MARG Trust, raises concerns about the lack of enforcement of regulations and licensing procedures, particularly among those with political connections or criminal backgrounds.

 “One of the questions raised was about licensing. When you join a driving school, they charge you a certain amount for a license, which also includes a sizable amount to be given to the RTO. If you obtain licenses this way, you are bound to meet with an accident,” he points out.

“The Supreme Court committee has given around 24-26 observations to be implemented in 2012 and 2017. However, there are certain directives given which can only be on paper. For instance, the Supreme Court committee talks about identifying black spots, but does the Transport Department not know in Goa that there are black spots on the roads?” he questions.

Naik notes that every year, there are several accidents at places like Kundaim, KarmalGhat, Farmagudi, and Pernem, which are known as black spots. Despite the committee’s directive to identify and address these areas, no real action has been taken. “The district committee on transport needs to identify these black spots and act upon them,” he emphasizes.

When asked where the government and enforcement agencies in Goa have failed road-users in the safety aspect, Naik highlights the poor state of road engineering in Goa. He shares his experience of traveling on the Canacona bypass, where the vehicle “used to go up and down like a trawler in the sea.” The roads have not been maintained properly, and the directives are not being obeyed. “Today, from Khandepar to Curti, the road is the same, in terrible condition.”

Moreover, Naik expresses concerns about the lack of proper training and licensing for drivers. “Civil society also has problems because they give licenses to anybody without checking whether they have undergone proper training. Parents should not give bikes to their children under 18 years of age, we should make them understand that it is akin to giving their children poison!”

On the issue of traffic management, Naik criticizes the police for causing traffic jams by standing on both sides of the road and stopping vehicles in a disorganised fashion. “They need to make the vehicles form one line to allow traffic to move,” he suggests, addressing Silva.

Raising concerns about the swanky new four-lane and five-lane highways, Naik questions whether enough precautions were taken during their construction to ensure proper safety measures were implemented to prevent high-speeding vehicles from crashing. The median issue was another point raised, highlighting the need for improved road engineering.

So what is the solution? Naik emphasizes the need for better education on road safety, particularly among children. “MARG was started by freedom fighter GurunathKelekar, and he and his compatriots went to almost all the schools and distributed one lakh pamphlets. Education is a primary thing. Otherwise, if you tell a person when he is 24-25, it is not possible. You train them right at a young age, and they will follow them.”

Inadequate staffing, lack of supervision, and negligent maintenance on the part of the Public Works Department, are contributing to road safety hazards in Goa, according to Roland Martins. Martins emphasized the need for dedicated personnel from the Public Works Department (PWD) to ensure safe road conditions.

“At present, the PWD is the principal organization which is missing everywhere,” Martins stated. “You can see all the meetings, their attendance is abysmal,” he says.

Martins highlighted the specific example of the PWD’s Road Engineering Cell, which issued a circular for a road engineer but failed to relieve staff of their duties to fulfil the role. “We need dedicated staff from the PWD for road safety,” he stressed.

Martins also recounted incidents where inadequate supervision led to dangerous road conditions. “For instance, take the stretch from Titan Junction, all the way to Cuncolim. The PWD has got only two workers to handle issues, if anything has fallen on the road,” he says.

Furthermore, Martins pointed out the lack of follow-through on road safety initiatives, citing the case of a speed breaker ordered by the North Goa collectorate eight months ago. “There’s a death which has taken place there, due to this,” Martins lamented. “When I raised the question in the meeting, asking when the notified speed breaker will be installed, he says to me, ‘This will not happen’.

Martins also criticized the neglectful maintenance of existing road safety measures, such as zebra crossings. “This week, I attended a road safety meeting at the Margao Municipal Council, and when I came out, I pointed out how they have messed up the Zebra Crossing, by allowing parking on it,” he laments.

These lapses in road safety have already resulted in fatalities, as Martins pointed out. “Look at that accident that took place at Arpora the other day, where a man lost his life. He stopped at a speed breaker, which is not a legal speed breaker. It doesn’t have a board. The rent-a-car vehicle rammed into him because he did not know why he was slowing down.”

With the rising number of casualties and fatalities on the roads, how do Goa’s emergency response services and healthcare facilities fare, when it comes to saving lives?

Dr Madhu says, “After years of campaigning and pushing for better emergency services, we now have the 108 Ambulance. We are now able to save lives by ensuring that victims reach health centres and hospitals within the golden hour. The response of our ambulances happens within half an hour. However, there is nothing that can be done about road users who suffer multiple traumas or serious brain or spine injuries, who may die on the spot.” According to Dr Madhu, the rapid and unplanned development of Goa’s villages and towns is contributing to the issue of unsafe roads. “Often, development is being planned separately, in each panchayat, municipality or village, but the decision makers are not considering the bigger picture, or looking at it as one Goa. Small things like gutters being made haphazardly, and pavers that are not installed properly can lead to accidents,” he adds.

On the same note, Roland Martins calls for greater awareness of the Good Samaritan law. He believes that instead of simply offering assistance to accident victims, people need to be aware of the potential dangers and risks involved. “All citizens need to learn about first aid and have self-awareness among individuals when it comes to the type of injuries that can be sustained in accidents,” he says, emphasizing the severity of the problem, citing a recent message from a volunteer colleague that the whole trauma area of Goa Medical College is full. “While not everyone may die, the number of people with disabilities resulting from accidents is increasing, and statistics need to be collected on the number of grievous injuries sustained. Head injuries are one such example where an individual may not die but could be paralyzed for life,” he points out. There are families where young men and women, who should ideally be taking care of their parents, have been severely disabled in road accidents, he says. “As a result, their aging parents are left taking their disabled children to hospital and to physiotherapy, they even need to help them go to the bathroom. This is tragic,” he laments.

 In response to this, road safety campaigns such as the Global Road Safety Week and State Road Safety Week aim to educate the public on the importance of safety measures such as wearing helmets, using seat belts, and not drinking and driving.

Martins believes that the responsibility for improving road safety lies not only with bureaucrats and representatives but also with individuals who need to take the health and safety of themselves and others seriously. As he states, “the road is not a race track, and we need to understand that.”

Another reason for roads becoming increasingly unsafe is the sheer number of private vehicles jostling for space on Goa’s narrow village roads and massive elevated expressways alike.

“The availability and reliability of public transportation in Goa is a major concern as many times, buses break down, and there are hardly any buses going to villages after eight o'clock. Lack of proper public transport results in people using two-wheelers and four-wheelers to travel,” Martins rues.

“The Singapore type of situation has arisen, where strict policies should be implemented, allowing new vehicles on the road only when old vehicles go off the road. This would help in reducing the number of vehicles on the road and decrease road accidents,” says Naik. However, for this to work, Goa’s public transport system needs to be more efficient, reliable and comfortable. While people in metros, irrespective of their social and economic status, tend to use the metro and travel by buses as well, people in Goa often shy away from using public transport, for worry that it may affect their social status or image.

“We need to reactivate the Task Force on Mobility to address issues like the absence of proper bus stands, especially in Margao, which only has a shed as a bus stand, a situation that has not changed for over 30 years,” Martins adds.

There is a need to campaign and push hard for public transport and introduce more EV buses in Goa. Proper and reliable public transportation can help people keep their bikes at home and reduce road accidents. However, people need to have the confidence that public transport is reliable and available, or they will not take the risk.


Iddhar Udhar