Police reports of the actual toll of road traffic injuries differ substantially from official statistics, the study, published online in the journal Injury Prevention, showed.
India’s official statistics on road traffic injuries between 2001 and 2014 report that pedestrians comprise fewer than 10 per cent of deaths – unusually low for a country where walking is the most common means of transportation, the researchers said.
The actual figures could be more than 20 per cent, meaning that almost one fifth of road accident victims are pedestrians, according to the research.
Similarly, the study said, motorcycle deaths are also underrepresented in the official statistics.
“Our study suggests that taken together pedestrians and motorcyclists account for the vast majority of traffic deaths in India,” said lead author Kavi Bhalla, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, US.
“The Indian government claims that they intend to cut traffic deaths by half, but this is impossible to achieve without knowing how people die on the roads,” Bhalla said.
In India, traffic police are responsible for investigating road traffic collisions.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) collects police reports from across the country and collates these to produce the official statistics for road traffic injuries.
In a bid to test the accuracy of these figures, the researchers reviewed police First Information Reports (FIR) of road traffic deaths in Belgaum district of Karnataka in 2013 and 2014.
These were then compared with the official stats from the NCRB, and large discrepancies emerged.
For example, official statistics for Belgaum reported that only nine per cent of deaths were among pedestrians, but the FIRs showed that in reality pedestrians comprised more than double that ? 21 per cent.
Similarly, official government statistics reported that 37 per cent of road traffic deaths were among motorcyclists, but the FIRs showed that they comprised almost half at 49 per cent.
While the study is based in only one district, the process of reporting in this district is similar to that used by all districts in the country.
The findings therefore suggest that India’s official statistics on road traffic deaths are likely to be unreliable, with pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists underrepresented, while vehicle occupants are overrepresented, conclude the authors.
The researchers noted that there was no substantial discrepancy in the total traffic deaths between the official statistics for the district and their assessment.
The reasons for these apparent discrepancies in official statistics are not clear, the researchers said. One possibility is that official statistics capture the mode of transport for the person judged responsible for the crash rather than reporting how the person who died was travelling.
Whatever the cause, until reporting procedures are fixed, researchers and policymakers in India should use data from police case files not official government statistics, Bhalla said.