If you are walking on the road, then do so with great caution. This is often said to pedestrians. Despite roads being the most important public spaces in cities and pedestrians its largest users, less than 30 percent of urban roads in India have footpaths. A survey conducted in 2008 by the Central Road Research Institute suggested that 9 out of 10 pedestrians felt unsafe while crossing the roads. Today, India loses 400 lives every day to traffic accidents, of those officially about 20 of them are pedestrian deaths. Unofficial estimates put the number at almost double the official statistics.
The issue of pedestrian rights has been so chronic and intense that it has been the subject of multiple litigations. One of the most important judgments on the subject clearly lay the emphasis of care on the vehicle driver, and not the pedestrian.
“All persons have right to walk on the road and are entitled to the exercise of reasonable care on the part of the person driving the vehicle. Therefore it cannot be said that the persons who are using the road for walking etc., they use the road at their own risk.”
This judgement also calls for proper sidewalks that are strictly vehicle-free zones; however, the reality in India is that cyclists, and on occasion even personal vehicles, are prominently using the sidewalks, making them very prone to accidents.
It further puts the onus on the drivers of vehicles on the road to look out for pedestrians and other users of the road, and warn them through the use of horns.While Indian roads are a constant cacophony of horns, how many times have you been giving adequate warning by a motorist? The International Federation of Pedestrians has been explicitly advocating the right to walk in public spaces as a basic human right. But that is not to say the pedestrians are not at fault at all.
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Ours is a country which has the least amount of pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks, proper zebra crossings, which makes pedestrians prone to jay-walking, crossing the roads wherever convenient, putting themselves and the motorists at risk.
There is no appropriate legislation to govern the behaviour of pedestrians and non-motorised traffic on the roads. There is also no central legislation to comprehensively govern or regulate the use of roads by pedestrians and non-motorised traffic. It has been left to the States to legislate thereon.
Earlier this year acting on a petition filed by a traffic advisor, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has issued a notice to the state governments of Punjab and Haryana, Chandigarh and the Government of India on making adequate provisions for enforcement of ‘right to walk’ as a fundamental right. Let’s hope that in the future, Indians are able to walk on, without stepping on other’s toes.