Road accidents push rural poor to extreme penury: World Bank study

Research based on data from four states including TN says road accidents rob the poor of almost seven months’ of income, making them vulnerable to debts; pushes many to depression and affects women the most  

Shards of car glass on the street

Road accidents can be as bad as the COVID-19 lockdown for India’s rural poor. Poor households in India face financial losses, amounting to seven months of their income due to road accidents, according to a World Bank study that is based on data collected from Tamil Nadu and three other states.

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Among the poor, people living in rural areas, especially women, are the most vulnerable to the impact of road accidents. Affected persons and their families are impaired not only by financial losses but also in terms of social impact, often leading to depression. Ultimately, the combined impact of road accidents pushes the poor deeper into poverty and indebtedness by wiping off income that is earned through months of hard labour.


The income decline for low-income rural households (56 per cent) was the most severe compared to low-income urban (29.5 per cent) and high-income rural households (39.5 per cent), says the study. According to a statement from the World Bank, the study titled “Traffic Crash Injuries and Disabilities: The Burden on Indian Society” highlights the disproportionate impact of a road crash on poor households that pushes them into a vicious cycle of poverty and debt. It sheds light on the links between road crashes, poverty, inequality, and vulnerable road users in India, the statement said.

Women bore the burden of accidents, across poor and rich households. The study found women had to often take up extra work and assume greater responsibilities. They also had to perform caregiving for those affected in road mishaps. About 50 per cent of women were severely affected by the decline in their household income after a road crash. About 40 per cent of women reported a change in their working patterns post-crash, while around 11 per cent reported taking up extra work to deal with the financial crisis.

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The statement said more than 75 per cent of poor households in India reported a decline in their income as a result of a road accident. The financial loss for the poor amounted to more than seven month’s household income, while it was equivalent to less than one month’s household income for rich households.

“Road crashes can have a devastating and disproportionate impact on the poor, thrusting a family into deep poverty,” according to Hartwig Schafer, World Bank Vice President for the South Asia region.

“The World Bank is committed to supporting the Indian government in creating safety nets for poor households to ease their financial burden and help them cope with the sudden emergency linked to road crashes,” the statement quoted him as saying.

The study was done in collaboration with SaveLIFE Foundation, a non-government organisation focused on road safety. Based on the survey data collected from Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Maharashtra, the study mapped the social, financial, gender, and psychological impacts of road crash on poor and disadvantaged households. The report recommends policy-oriented approaches for saving lives and improving the ability of victims and their families to get back on their feet, including providing immediate financial, medical and legal aid. “We have taken a number of positive initiatives to reduce road crash deaths in India. With the support of all stakeholders in our society, I am committed to reducing road crash deaths by 50 per cent by 2025,” said Nitin Gadkari, Minister for Road Transport & Highways.

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“This report highlights the link between poverty and the impact of road crashes. I urge all state governments to effectively implement the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 and work together to mitigate the effects of road crashes on poor and disadvantaged sections of the population,” he added at the unveiling of the report.

The study also documents low rates of access to insurance coverage and poor awareness related to legal compensation among truck drivers. Two-thirds of truck drivers interviewed for the survey were not aware of third-party liability insurance. None of the drivers had applied for or benefited from cashless treatment at hospitals, Solatium Fund for hit and run cases or ex-gratia schemes.

The study also highlights the social impact of road traffic injuries. About 64 per cent of low-income households reported a deterioration in their standard of living (more than twice reported by high-income households), while more than 50 per cent reported mental depression post-crash.

“The findings of the report identify the areas that require immediate improvements such as efforts towards post-crash emergency care and protocols, insurance and compensation systems. It also presents an opportunity for development agencies, policymakers and respective state governments to prioritise a complete policy overhaul of the existing system and implement sustainable solution-oriented, inclusive measures to improve their performance on road safety,” said Piyush Tewari, CEO and founder of SaveLIFE Foundation.

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The report recommends making health infrastructure and coverage more accessible and inclusive; providing social security net for crash victims from low-income households through state support; creating an accessible legal framework for availing insurance and compensation for road crash victims; recognising the gender impact of road crashes, and addressing it through participative governance and special schemes for women; and strengthening post-crash support for children and young adults through state support.

The study covered around 2,500 respondents, including 1,647 respondents from low-income households, 432 from high-income households and 420 truck drivers in the four selected states (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar represent low-capacity states and Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra represent high-capacity states) across urban and rural areas.

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