Home Leaders Speak Gurpratap Boparai from ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India Talks about CSR’s Role in...

Gurpratap Boparai from ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India Talks about CSR’s Role in Improving Road Safety

As per the WHO Global Report on Road Safety 2018, India accounts for almost 11 per cent of road crash-related deaths in the world – the highest among 199 countries followed by China and the US. According to the latest Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) report on Road Crashes in 2019, on an average around 1,230 road crashes and 414 deaths took place daily on Indian roads in 2019, which translates into 51 crashes and loss of 17 lives every hour.
To bring road crashes and fatalities under control, SaveLIFE Foundation, together with state governments and partners like Volkswagen Group India, implemented Zero Fatality Corridor project on the NH-48 – a 360-degree road safety solution across the 5 E’s of Road Safety – Engineering, Enforcement, Emergency Care, Engagement and Enactment to bring down road fatalities in India. The project covers a 111 km stretch of NH-48, also known as the Old Mumbai- Pune Expressway. So far, this has led to an overall reduction in fatalities by 30%, from 298 deaths in 2017 to 206 in 2019 on Expressway.
In an exclusive interview with The CSR Journal, Mr Gurpratap Boparai, MD, Skoda Auto India highlights the need for road safety on Indian highways along with solutions needed to save lives on the road.

1. Road safety is a major challenge in India, especially considering the lack of traffic sense among many drivers in the city as well as on highways. What policy interventions are required in your opinion to address this?

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 is a good starting point. The Act addresses key risk factors like drink driving, non-wearing of seat belt and helmet, over-speeding, emphasises mandatory driver training before licensing, and a centrally digitised and transparent driver licensing system. Most importantly, it fixes the accountability of contractors for faulty road design and engineering by imposing a penalty on them for faulty construction/design. If implemented properly, the Act can help save many lives.
Any policy is as good as its implementation. But all policies require a robust and standardised framework to operate in and realise its goals. The “Vision Zero” model, which we are implementing in partnership with  SaveLIFE Foundation, helps to do exactly that. It creates a scientific and objective framework to showcase the implementation of best practices and enabling frameworks. By adopting and replicating it on various stretches, the model helps to evaluate the outcomes and measure its success in concrete terms.

2. Is ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India working towards bringing about a behavioural change in order to improve the road safety scenario?

ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India (SAVWIPL) not only wants to build safe cars, but through projects like the “Vision Zero” initiative on Old Mumbai-Pune Highway, we want to work towards a safer eco-system for commuters protecting them against road crashes and injuries.
ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India is a responsible manufacturer and is committed to improving its vehicular design and investing in the latest technology. This is why our cars feature the most advanced equipment that both actively prevents crashes and protect occupants in case of an emergency. With features such as airbags, ABS with EBD, hill ascent and descent, cruise control and much more, Skoda cars make sure that safety is not an issue while driving. But we also believe that the most important road safety feature is a forgiving system. We want to demonstrate how to create a safe system which ensures that no road user has to pay with their life while commuting on road.
The “Vision Zero” model being applied on NH-48, supported by Skoda Auto helps us to do that in a systematic and consistent manner. The model has six main elements to reduce road crash fatalities on any given high-risk stretch. These steps include Coalition building, Collecting reliable data, Conducting on-site audits, Solution deployment, Impact measurement and Replication. The first element of coalition building encourages inter-agency cooperation and bringing all like-minded stakeholders and partners to work towards the same shared goals and vision. The second element involves the collection of trustworthy verifiable data through conducting Scientific Crash Investigations and FIR data analysis etc. Once the data is collated and analysed, regular on-site audits are institutionalised to verify the available data and check if the proposed interventions are running smoothly. Errors are flagged and fixed immediately by relevant ground agencies after feedback is generated and loopholes are pointed out. Solution deployment is done across the 4Es of Engineering, Enforcement, Emergency Care and Engagement. Impact of interventions across 4Es is measured over a period of time using standardised and fixed parameters. This model thus creates a full proof 360-degree intervention framework on any given stretch.
Thus, creating a strong public engagement is one of the key components under “Vision Zero”. As a part of our project engagement activities, we have conducted strategic nudge-based public outreach and communication campaigns among road users. 12 villages with a population of over 3000 members have been informed and made aware of safe road user practices.

3. ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India has made some interventions on NH-48 to reduce road crashes. Please highlight them.

With an aim to significantly reduce road crash deaths and make the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway (NH 48) safe for all road users, we extended our support to SaveLIFE Foundation (SLF), Maharashtra State Government, and the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) to start the Zero Fatality Corridor (ZFC) initiative in 2017. The partnership aims to create a scalable and replicable model for road safety across Indian highways by bringing down the deaths on NH48 to near-zero levels. This is achieved by using data-driven and evidence-based interventions that span over 5Es of Road Safety – Enactment,  Engineering, Enforcement, Emergency Care, and Engagement. As a result of the joint interventions carried out under the project, the Old Mumbai Pune Highway (NH-48)  has witnessed a 30% decline in road crash deaths from 298 in 2017 to 206 in 2019.
Till date, the initiative has addressed road engineering interventions, improved post-crash emergency care, conducted comprehensive research on the stretch, called for better police enforcement efforts and grassroot community engagement in a holistic manner. Advocacy and awareness continues to be created around systemic interventions to prevent road crashes and build effective first responders to aid emergency care on the 111km, 4 lane divided carriageway highway, between Nigri in Pune and Shilphata in Mumbai.
I am very pleased to tell you that Skoda Auto Volkswagen India’s Vision Zero Project for NH- 48 was adjudged the best CSR project in the Road Safety category by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Some key outcomes and successful interventions of the project include:
– Training of over 500 officials and volunteers on the Basic Trauma Life Support (BTLS) program to provide rapid emergency care after a crash.
– Fixing of more than 1000 engineering issues by MSRDC.
– Installation of 500 signage on trees to help in night-time visibility and visual notification to users of roadside hazards.
– Installation of 185 Chevron markers and 34 large boards informing commuters of Emergency care services on the Old Highway.

4. How can they be replicated throughout the country?

The “Vision Zero” initiative is a pioneering attempt by SAVWIPL and SaveLIFE Foundation to build a replicable model for road safety that can be implemented on any road in India. The success of the “Vision Zero” approach on NH-48   can be replicated on other highways if similar support is provided by respective State Governments and the local communities.
Similar to the strategy used in NH-48, scientific crash data analysis can be used to identify and address key infrastructural factors/engineering issues, enforcement can be beefed up by implementing certain protocols, commuter behaviour can be changed through key messaging directed at them, and trauma care can be optimised through certain replicable practices. Weak data collection, lack of stakeholder cooperation and a dearth of evidence-based solutions to local road safety problems can all be addressed through this model.
As a hyper-local model that is modular, transferable, scalable and replicable at various levels of operation, any stakeholder can take over and carry forward the “Vision Zero” model at a level of operation suited to them.

5. Is ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India collaborating or working with any other entity in order to implement the said measures across the country?

We are working closely with SaveLIFE Foundation to identify other areas and entities with whom we can work together to replicate this model. I don’t think Road Safety is a choice nor is it exclusive. It is an essential duty for everyone sharing the infrastructure and we hope to have as many stakeholders on board to further the ambition to have Safe Roads across the country.

6. What are the future plans of the company to further improve road safety in India?

ŠKODA AUTO Volkswagen India is committed to the cause of promoting road safety and supporting efforts to reduce road traffic injuries. We are keen on investing more and collaborating with like-minded partners in the future. We will continue to undertake driver safety campaigns and improve our vehicular design for greater efficiency and safety.