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There Is No Delicate Way To Say This But Accident Stats Don't Back Supreme Court Liquor Ban

It isn't clear that the SC's ruling is driven by data.

04/04/2017 10:11 AM IST | Updated 04/04/2017 12:29 PM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Did the Supreme Court properly use numbers to back up its decision to ban the sale of alcohol on national highways? It would appear not.

"The judgment of this Court concludes that there is no justification to allow liquor vends on state highways (while prohibiting them on national highways) having due regard to drunken driving being one of the significant causes of road accidents in India," the SC notes. Elsewhere, it reiterates "the significant element of public interest that is involved in dealing with road accidents caused due to drunken driving on the highways of the nation".

While every death from drunken driving is certainly a tragedy that should have been prevented, it isn't clear the data backs the court up.

According to the National Crime Record Bureau's (NCRB) Accidental and Suicidal Deaths in India (2015) report, drunken driving caused 2% of 1,48,707 road accident deaths in 2015. The top cause of fatal accidents, as in previous years, was over speeding.

The court chose to use the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway's publication Road Accidents in India (2015), which counts road statistics slightly differently from the NCRB. The MoRTH puts the share of deaths from drunken driving at a higher rate of 4.6%. "In regard to the figures of death or injury due to drunken driving," the SC's December 2016 judgement adds, "there is a tendency to under estimate or under-report in order not to impede the right of victims and/ or their legal heirs to receive compensation," citing no evidence for this claim.

Neither the NCRB nor the MoRTH mention how many drunken driving-related accidents took place on highways, and the SC does not concern itself with the matter.

In general, nearly as many accidents take place on "other roads" as on national and state highways put together, though national highways do account for a disproportionate share of accidents proportionate to their road length. More accidents took place in rural than in urban areas.

The SC also notes that India has the world's highest number of road accident fatalities, but it fails to note that this is a result of its size. According to the WHO, India had 16.6 road traffic fatalities per 100,000 people, which is higher than in developed countries but moderate for developing countries.

Two-wheelers contributed to over 43,000 of the 1.48 lakh deaths in road accidents in 2015, and trucks and buses another 40,000. The most lethal times for road accidents are in the middle of the day--from 9 am to 6 pm.

Meanwhile, the Economic Times estimates that the ban will hit one million jobs and cause an estimated 40% revenue loss to the industry.

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