Are school kids safe on Bengaluru roads? Dataset hints at risks

WRI India recently launched the ‘Safe Access to Schools’ web tool, which brings together various datasets to understand road safety scenarios around schools in Bengaluru.
A woman accompanies two school students as they wait to cross a traffic-packed road in Bengaluru.
A woman accompanies two school students as they wait to cross a traffic-packed road in Bengaluru.

India, which is home to the largest population of children in the world, loses more than 15,000 minors under the age of 18 to road accidents every year. This is the highest in the world as per the World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Road Safety. As physical classes resumed in many parts of India, the threat of contracting the virus aside, children also have to face the risk of road traffic accidents while commuting to schools, which continues to beleaguer metro cities. Bengaluru alone recorded a sharp 12% increase in traffic fatalities from 2018 to 2019. Of the 768 fatal crashes in 2019, 37 victims were children.

World Resources Institute (WRI) India (a research organisation that turns big ideas into action at the nexus of environment, economic opportunity, and human well-being), with the support of Underwriters Laboratories (an independent safety science research organisation), recently launched the ‘Safe Access to Schools’ web tool, which brings together various datasets to understand road safety scenarios around schools in Bengaluru. The Safe Access to School tool provides insights into several traffic-related risks along school zones.

The datasets include 2019 road accident fatalities, traffic speed, location of schools, road network, transit stops, and land uses. The datasets were sourced from various official data sources such as Karnataka State police FIR (first information report) records, U-Dise+ school information portal as well as open data services such as Google and open street map services. Using this, the team identified some of the risks in and around school zones and proposed how to bring stakeholders together to take collective action.

Children as pedestrians

In Bengaluru, 90% of the children live within five kilometres of the school and around 57% of children walk to school. Fatal accident data analysis shows that 85% (227) of all pedestrian fatalities (adults and children) due to accidents in 2019 happened within a 250-meter walking distance from schools. A mapping of road crash victims shows that 88% of all child fatalities have occurred within a 250-meter walking distance around schools.

As most children walk or cycle to schools, the poor pedestrian infrastructure puts them at risk. Children are more vulnerable on Indian roads as their small size restricts their vision and their ability to perceive potential threats.

School timing, location contribute to fatalities

Data indicates that pedestrians and children face risks during opening (9 am to 10 am) and closing hours (3 pm to 4 pm). This is the period when children walk or cycle, board school buses, use public transport or private vehicles in and around schools.

Mapping of schools and streets that have witnessed a high number of road accidents shows that 55% of the students in Bengaluru study in schools that are located within 250-meter from these accident-prone streets. This implies that most children are likely to face traffic risks every day.

Sixty-four (8%) fatalities were reported within 100-meter walking distance from these schools. These are spaces where school buses, public transport, auto-rickshaws, taxis, and private vehicles drop off students. These areas are also frequented by children looking to access play areas, parks, gardens, and commercial areas outside the school premises.

Many of the road accidents in Bengaluru also occur along arterial roads, which are designed for high-speed traffic. Incidentally, several schools are located near arterial roads. This makes students particularly vulnerable, especially those who walk or cross these busy roads during school hours. WRI India found that pedestrian fatality rises when safer speed limits of 30 km/hour are crossed within city limits.

For the safety of students, the arterial roads must have a safe pedestrian infrastructure for crossing, which need to be monitored by the traffic police and schools during peak hours. It is also essential to consider strict enforcement of lower speed limits in the proximity of schools, especially during school hours.

Making bus stops safer for children

Public bus is an important mode of transportation for school students in Bengaluru. Alarmingly, 75 fatalities in 2019 have occurred at transit stops within walking distance of a school. Lack of visibility of children for the drivers and the lack of visibility of approaching vehicles for children are major concerns. Lack of pedestrian crossings and dedicated waiting areas near bus stops, unorganised parking, crowding and other activities along bus stops are other areas that need to be looked at to ensure safe access. However, to think that commuting to schools by private vehicles will solve the problem is not correct.

Alternative solutions

The physical and psychological development of children depends on their opportunities to be outdoor and play in a safe and stimulating natural environment. Obesity, mental and physical health problems among children could be linked to the lack of opportunities to walk, play, socialise, and relax in outdoor settings. School zones need to provide these opportunities considering the amount of time that children spend in schools.

Delineation of school zones and special efforts to ensure students’ road safety through planning, execution, and management is crucial. This will also have the added benefit of simultaneously addressing traffic allied issues such as air and noise pollution. By pursuing these actions, city leaders can shape better cities and a better future for our future citizens.

Views expressed by the authors are personal. Sree Kumar Kumaraswamy is the head of Integrated Transport at the World Resources Institute (WRI) India Ross Centre. Kaustubh Chuke is the manager of Sustainable Cities and Transport at WRI.

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