This organization is working to build a route to a safer India by scientifically investigating road accidents, its resulting injuries, and determining cost-effective data-driven solutions that can give road users a second chance in life. For headlamps are replaceable, but heads are not.

Most of us have either experienced an accident or have known someone who has been affected by it. Conventionally, driver error is considered as the main cause of most of the road accidents. Due to this type of a generic analysis, the contribution of human errors is grossly exaggerated without taking into account the role of vehicle and environmental factors in accident and injury causation in developing countries. Thus, the commonly repeated wisdom— “Driver error is the cause of over 90% of crashes”. Even in the US, UK, Germany, Sweden, and other countries, driver error is the major reason for crashes. So how do they manage to reduce fatalities and crashes? Their approach to road safety needs to be studied and understood so that India too can arrest and reverse the trend of road traffic fatalities.

And this is where JPRI (JP Research India Pvt. Ltd) comes in. It was the wife-husband duo Jeya Padmanaban and Ajit Dandapani who conceived the idea to create the country’s first in-depth automotive accident database to scientifically examine and understand road accidents in India and create data-driven solutions.

Jeya Padmanaban and Ajit Dandapani

A statistician with a specialization in automotive safety analysis, Padmanaban also provides expert witness services in litigation in the USA. Crash data analysis being her core expertise in the USA, she wanted to contribute and share her experience in mitigating crashes and injuries in India. “When it comes to traffic safety decision-making in the US, crash data collection is considered very significant. In 2006, India had crossed the 100,000 fatalities mark and the trend was only rising. During visits to my family in India, I often wondered why India was not able to arrest and reverse this tragic trend, even though billions of rupees were being spent on various road safety initiatives. Based on reviewing government reports and meeting various government and automotive safety agencies, I soon realized that it was the lack of good quality crash data that was impeding effective road safety decision making”, narrates Jeya, when asked what prompted her to start JP Research India in the first place.

Challenges in getting started

To collect good quality crash data, the core problem for getting started was finding partners in India who understood the importance of crash data and were willing to support the work JP Research India had been formed to undertake. “While planning to start JP Research India, I was told that it is impossible to do crash investigations in India, but my initial explorations of the idea indicated there was not only a great need but also a great interest by local police and other entities dedicated to public safety”, said Jeya to LBN.

Initially, the funding of this project was done by her and she brought together a team of experts to handle the crash investigations in India meticulously. “It took some pilot studies and my professional connections, forged through a lifetime of safety research and publications based on just such crash data as collected in other countries, to get international partners such as Bosch, Nissan, and Daimler on board to begin with”, she recalls. “Then, in a few years’ time, my team managed to get more companies, including Indian OEMs, to join and support the crash investigation and in-depth data collection work we do. Today, after a decade of starting JP Research India, I am extremely proud to say that we are counted amongst the top crash investigation and accident research organizations in the world.

What is RASSI?

RASSI is short for Road Accident Sampling System – India. It is an on-site crash investigation and in-depth scientific crash data collection initiative founded and coordinated by JP Research India. The technical activities are steered by a consortium of consisting of top automotive OEMs, suppliers and research organizations such as Bosch, Nissan, Daimler, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Maruti Suzuki, Autoliv, Tata Motors, Continental, Renault, Mahindra and JP Research, Inc. Under the RASSI initiative, crashes are continually being investigated in detail by JP Research India teams in Coimbatore Rural District, Mumbai-Pune Expressway, Ahmedabad City, Kolkata City, and Jaipur City.

RASSI Consortium members at the 9th Annual Meeting held in Pune on 21 January 2019.

RASSI Consortium members at the 9th Annual Meeting held in Pune on 21 January 2019.

To study crashes in real-time and as they happen is a daunting task. Over the years, my team has successfully managed to develop a scientific methodology based on the understanding of the ground situations. On-site crash investigations require the team to be notified of a crash as soon as it occurs. This requires constant communication and follow-ups with the police, ambulances, highway operators, towing operators, followed by other necessary protocols,” stated Jeya as she began explaining the crash investigation process.

On receiving notification of a crash, the JP Research India Crash Investigation teams have to travel to the crash site. On reaching the crash site, the team has to manage the traffic situation carefully and cordon off the crash site to ensure a safe working area. While in other countries, it generally falls under the police department to cordon-off the area and stops traffic from passing by to ensure that crashes can be investigated properly, but in India, the police department usually works fast to tow/move the accident vehicles off the road and get the traffic moving. Hence, the crash investigation teams have to cordon off the area themselves and have been trained to do so by experts to conduct examinations in a safe and professional manner. “Safety is a priority and we always remind our crash investigators that their safety is more important than the data we collect. We follow strict policies and procedures to ensure that our crash investigation teams do not have any mishaps and end up in the RASSI crash database”, asserts Mr. Ravishankar Rajaraman, Technical Director of JP Research India.

At the site, the JP Research India crash investigation teams log a wide array of data, as well as vehicle and crash site photographs. The teams collect and assess detailed evidence—such as tire marks, debris, impacted objects, measurements of crash damage to the vehicle—and identify interior vehicle locations contacted by occupants during the crash event. They then follow up on-site investigations by linking medical record reviews to document the nature and severity of injury from a crash. The JP Research India team also reconstructs every crash to determine the travel speeds and impact speeds of the involved vehicles and creates a 3D simulation of the crash that provides a complete visualization of the crash sequence, from up to 5 seconds before impact to the final resting position of the vehicles. “This kind of research is unique in India and the data that we collect has the potential to help engineers, doctors, police, and transport departments, and policymakers save lives through road and vehicle safety engineering, emergency medical support, targeted education and enforcement, and enactment of laws that actually work on the ground”, adds Ravishankar.

Finally, and most importantly, the JP Research India teams determine the human, vehicle and infrastructure factors influencing the occurrence of the crash and the resulting injuries over three-time phases – pre-crash, crash and post-crash – using the Haddon Matrix approach. The Haddon Matrix has been successfully used for analyzing automotive crashes and identifying successful interventions for preventing crashes and mitigating injuries in many countries. “The Haddon Matrix is a powerful concept which every person involved in road safety should know. The purpose of a scientific crash investigation is to determine the failures, in each of these 9 cells, which led to the occurrence of the crash and the resulting injuries. By finding out the failures of a good number of crashes, it is possible to identify the areas of priority, in each of the 9 cells, where planned interventions and investments will result in a targeted reduction of fatalities and injuries”, adds Mr. Balakumar Selvaraj, Road Safety Engineer, JP Research India.

The Haddon Matrix developed by Dr. William Haddon Jr. in the 1960-70s.

All the above methodologies involve conducting work in a professional and safe manner, and building and maintaining relationships with various stakeholders including victims, police officers, ambulance personnel, doctors, towing operators, and highway authorities. “Along with the RASSI Consortium members, who support us technically and financially, we are most grateful to the police, ambulance services, towing operators, hospitals and other government agencies in the states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal and Rajasthan whose co-operation is vital to ensure good quality scientific data collection”, added Jeya.

But how does RASSI data help when it is only a small sample of crashes in India?

The long-term goal of the RASSI Consortium is to extend RASSI to create an integrated network of data centers across India with the support of other automotive and transportation-related companies and of the government. Simultaneously, efforts are also on to use statistical techniques to represent the RASSI sample of crash data to the whole of the nation. Such a national level representation will allow the identification and prioritization of road safety issues that need to be addressed by the government, industry and road users with a shared responsibility approach. “The RASSI methodology for sampling representativeness is similar to the methods used by crash investigation agencies in countries like USA, Germany, and the UK, which have successfully demonstrated and shown a reduction in road crash fatalities over the past many decades. Using sample studies is a very cost-effective method for improving road safety. Statistical techniques, as employed by RASSI, help in achieving fantastic road safety results with lesser resources and finances”, Jeya declared.

Has RASSI had any impact yet?

Successful road safety improvement initiatives involve the collection of good crash data, well-planned interventions, target setting and continuous monitoring and evaluation of the crash situation to determine which initiatives are working and which are not. RASSI enables road safety stakeholders in the local locations to use data-driven methods to achieve the targeted reduction of fatalities and injuries.

“A good example of such an initiative where RASSI crash data has helped is the Zero Fatality Corridor Initiative on the Mumbai Pune Expressway,” says Mr. Bhuvanesh Bharath Alwar, Road Safety Engineer, JP Research India, who is one of the technical advisors to the Zero Fatality Corridor Initiative and is also responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of over 1000+ locations on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway where he and his team have identified road safety engineering issues. “Based on RASSI crash data, it was observed that a large number of crashes occurred as a result of vehicles running off the roadway. While in many locations guardrails were present, the problem was that the departure of the vehicle from the roadway occurred much before the guardrail begins. Hence, the specification of the runout length (the length of the guardrail preceding the object it is covering) was established based on data of run-off-road crashes collected through RASSI scientific crash investigations. An increase in the guard rail run-out length, from 30 meters to over 60 meters, resulted in the reduction of fatalities by 30% in 2017 when compared to the year 2016. Another interesting and novel idea of the road engineers, based on evidence from RASSI crash data, was changing the tapered-end of a guardrail to a bullnose, which also helped mitigate injuries in a good number of crashes,” claimed Bhuvanesh.

Reduction of fatalities on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway as a result of 4 major contributing road infrastructure factors.

Data-driven road safety solutions are also cost-effective. In Kolkata city, poor placement of road markings, crossings and signage, especially at road intersections, were a significant problem leading to pedestrian fatalities. “For every fatal crash we examined in Kolkata, we provided the Kolkata Traffic Police a concise report on the road engineering issues identified and the interventions required. Thanks to the road-marking and signage team of the Kolkata Traffic Police, low-cost solutions such as maintaining road markings, repainting of pedestrian crossings at the correct locations, complemented with strict enforcement measures and penalization for violation of stop lines at traffic signals have helped reduced fatalities over the past 3 years”, added Balakumar.

YearKolkata City Road Accident Fatalities

Road Accident Fatalities in Kolkata City. Source: Kolkata Traffic Police.

“While the above reductions in fatalities are laudable, it is important to remember that data-driven road safety strategies need to be continuously monitored and pursued in a persistent manner”, warns Ravishankar. “Our experience indicates that sometimes a reduction of fatalities makes decision-makers complacent and they drop the ball. Very soon new road safety issues spring up and the fatalities curve starts moving upward again. It is important to remember that road safety is not a one-time battle, but it is a long-drawn-out war and needs to be dealt with a scientific and data-driven temperament, proper planning and execution, and of course, lots of patience and perseverance”.

We can replace Headlights, not Heads!

For this initiative to succeed, it is very important that India realizes that injuries are more important than crashes. The focus of road safety initiatives should be towards targeted mitigation or elimination of the contributing factors that influence the occurrence of injuries, in the event of a crash. “It is now time for people in India to start realizing that road safety is a science and not just an act of God, hence, with good knowledge, data and understanding of scientific principles, it is possible to arrest the rising trend of fatalities and reverse the trend. Even the Indian government needs to make laws and rules based on field data so that they can measure their effectiveness and ensure better compliance”, stated Jeya.

In this direction, JP Research India is spreading awareness amongst the police, media, students and young engineers by giving them interactive sessions and presentations on the science of road safety. “JP Research India crash investigation teams are also conducting awareness programs and interacting with high school, college and undergraduate students to show them real cases and explain the science behind automotive crashes and injuries. Many students are amazed to know that physics and biology they learn in high school can actually help in saving lives. To take this forward, Jeya and I have set up Safety Research Foundation in India that will focus on data-driven road safety initiatives and awareness,” proudly proclaims Mr. Ajit Dandapani, CEO, JP Research India.

“By 2020, JP Research India will have completed 10 years of in-depth crash data collection in India under the RASSI initiative with a database of over 5000+ crashes. By then we will also refine and release the national representativeness of the sample data being collected. Such crash data projected to the nation will enable policymakers, automotive OEMs and suppliers, road engineers, police, NGOs and all stakeholders adopt a data-driven approach and create a significant impact towards improving road safety in India”, added Ajit.

While the current decade of action did not see any major reduction in fatalities, JP Research India hopes that the work towards in-depth crash data collection in this decade will prepare India for the next decade of data-driven action for road safety. Looking forward to the growth and success of this scientific initiative towards safer Indian roads.