Road safety: How a state in India is leading the way to lower road crash deaths


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Young Boys Cycling at Ennore Creek Bridge, Tamil Nadu, India.
Tamil Nadu successfully lowered its road crash deaths by over 25 percent in five years. Credit: Ikhwan Ameer /

Road safety is a critical development priority for South Asia, impacting health, wellbeing and economic growth. Countries in the region must work together if they are to achieve the goal of halving road crash deaths by 2030. This blog is part of our Together for Road Safety campaign.

“Every life lost on the road is one too many” resonates viscerally in Tamil Nadu, which until recently, was one of the worst-ranked states in India for road crashes and fatalities 

In 2014, more than 15,000 people were dying every year from road crashes in Tamil Nadu. But decision-makers have turned the situation around through strategic vision and leadership.

In 2019, road deaths in Tamil Nadu fell to 10,000, a reduction of over 25 percent.  What’s notable is that improving road safety did not come at the expense of economic development but rather supported it. 

What important lessons can other Indian states learn from Tamil Nadu’s successful experience in improving road safety?  

Tamil Nadu focused on coordinated management of interventions, bringing all key stakeholders to the table.

Aerial view of the roads in Tamil Nadu, India
Aerial view of the roads in Tamil Nadu, India. Credit: Government of Tamil Nadu

Strong leadership and improved road safety management

Tamil Nadu focused on coordinated management of multi-sectoral interventions, bringing all key stakeholders to the table, and establishing a Road Safety Executive Leadership Group - responsible for decision making across the state. A Road Safety Management Cell supported the leadership to implement actions, review monthly road safety initiatives, statistics and targets at the district level while crash trends were reviewed monthly by no less than the state’s Director-General of Police. 

Interdepartmental coordination and standard operating procedures included teams of Police, Highways and Transport visiting every fatal crash site and reporting on causative factors, remedial and punitive measures within three days. This provided the recipe for sustained and holistic management of the road safety problem in the state.

Tamil Nadu has brought down the post-crash response time of emergency medical teams to 14 minutes.

Focus on post-crash response

Improving the trauma care system was an essential component of road safety management in Tamil Nadu . The state established Emergency Care Centers and Accident Relief Centers on high crash-prone road stretches in national and state highways. 

Response time was dramatically improved through a dedicated call-line as well as proactive allocation and dynamic positioning of ambulances. The state also introduced triage and acuity scoring systems at the pre-hospital level to ensure prioritization of patients. Effective traffic management of emergency vehicles at signalized junctions helped reduce travel time.  

These efforts were supplemented through institutional, data management and capacity building efforts such as developing a Centre of Excellence in trauma care in Kanchipuram, implementing trauma registries in hospitals for systematic data analysis, and first-responder training. These successes have also enabled Tamil Nadu to be well-positioned to quickly adjust and provide additional ambulance support to patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.    

Ambulance Service at Ennore Creek Bridge, North Chennai, Tamil Nadu in India.
Response time to crashes was dramatically improved through a dedicated call-line as well as proactive allocation and dynamic positioning of ambulances. Credit: Ikhwan Ameer /

A ‘first of its kind’ crash database system 

Tamil Nadu is a leader in the use of data-driven, scientific approaches to address road safety challenges  with its web enabled GIS-based Road Accident Database Management System (RADMS) developed over a decade ago. This “first of its kind” system, which maps road accidents, identifies the most crash-prone hot spots, and pinpoints corrective action, has now been adopted as the template for replication at a national level for all other states. 

Use of RADMS with its linkage to medical facilities across the state has brought down the post-crash response time of emergency medical teams to 14 minutes , at par with the world’s best trauma services.  

Adapting infrastructure to a fast urbanizing state 

Tamil Nadu has a tradition of good road building with safety improvement measures built in.  It also adapted its infrastructure to urbanizing conditions through pedestrian footpaths, fencing and crossing facilities, traffic calming, signage, and channelization. 

Between 2014 and 2018, the state Highways Department spent almost $200 million on special road safety programs and on rectifying more than 200 crash hotspots; about 2% of the capital expenditure under its Core Road Infrastructure Development Program has been earmarked for road safety, and the state also effectively utilized the Central Road Fund earmarked to states for safety engineering works. 

Aerial View of the roads in Tamil Nadu (Photo Credit: Government of Tamil Nadu)
Tamil Nadu has a tradition of good road building with safety improvement measures built in. Credit: Government of Tamil Nadu

Improving road user compliance

Stringent enforcement has also significantly improved road user compliance and transparency. Enforcement of helmet laws, working hours of tourist/maxi cab drivers, and wine shops along highways was tightened; district collectors were asked to rationalize the speed limits on highways and a control room activated to monitor highway police patrol; and traffic regulations strictly enforced with e-challans issued through smart integration with the national vehicle and license databases. 

This yielded impressive results on behavior change - between 2018 and 2019, two-wheeler fatalities in Tamil Nadu due to non-wearing of helmets declined by 28% . The state is now embarking on the next level of deterrence of risky user behaviors through automated speed enforcement systems and modernized equipment and tools. 

The road ahead

Tamil Nadu’s early successes show that data-driven evidence-based road safety interventions when applied well are likely to produce the desired results.  Mobilizing large resources for road safety is also possible despite the lack of a lead agency and dedicated funding arrangements.

The World Bank worked closely with the state government to support these multi-sectoral road safety initiatives, through projects including the Tamil Nadu Road Sector Project and the Health System Reform Program.

Going forward, sustaining these achievements will require that Tamil Nadu’s efforts on road safety management, post-crash care, infrastructure safety, and digital enforcement are continued. Other states in India would do well to traverse a similar road towards lower road crash deaths.



James Markland

Senior Transport Specialist

Dipan Bose

Senior Transport Specialist

Dominic S. Haazen

Lead Health Policy Specialist

January 19, 2021

Great effort by the Tamil Nadu team! It has taken quite some time and concerted efforts to reach here. Still, a long way to go! But it is time to acknowledge and celebrate the results. Results for road safety programs are not easy to come by! TNRSP played a crucial role to get this started and to sustain it. Personally, I am pleased that I was able to play a "small" role during the formative years!! :-)

January 19, 2021

Many accidents occur in the nights due to the drivers , out of tiredness , sleep for few seconds ..
My relative , a high ranking official at NLC , died on the spot when the driver dashed the car against a tree last year around this period. His wife took several days to get consciousness. As a part of reducing road accidents , drivers of four wheelers ,trucks and buses should be checked for this deficiency , while driving at nights. For night travel , Tamil Nadu state can sponsor trained drivers from a pool at nominal cost to those who would like to engage efficient drivers at nights.

Subramaniam Hariharan
January 22, 2021

Well Said Sir,

I had noticed many such fatal accidents on the highway with Drivers with amazing Track Records. And surprisingly all of them were caused by that micromillisecond flash of sleep.

My take is, to deploy check points in between 2 AM to 7 AM on highways to check the sleep deprivation part of the Drivers and counsel them.

There was a.time "Jan Matiri Police" at Walayar Post of Kerala used to do this. They would stop these truckers and offer tea and biscuits compulsorily.

Efforts, humane and supportive from authorities can do a lot in this area.

May 12, 2021

Sharp curves left on the National highways, state highways has never been addressed in any road safety programs which is accountable for 30 percent accidents. So engineering design of roads need also to be addressed which can bring down accident forever.

Kailash Chandra TIWARI
January 20, 2021

Great initiative indeed and timely actions too!
GIS based crash database management and information system had been developed first time for Kerala in India by our consulting team, financed by the WB, in 2004-05. HOWEVER, it could not be implemented. It was further refined and improved system software was implemented in Tamilnadu. I had also developed and successfully implemented similar System Software in Indonesia in 2012.

Evidence based interventions with cooperation, coordination and collaboration; political will; efficient and effective road safety management; Institutional Strengthening and Capacity building; following Safe System Approach with adequate funding for Actions on 5 Pillars has helped to prevent and reduce crashes, casualties, loss of properties and trauma.
Time and efforts are needed to ensure sustainability.
Kailash TIWARI, International Road Safety management Specialist and Team Leader.
Based in Australia and India.

T. S. Reddy
January 25, 2021

It is very heartening to learn through this short and lucid article that Tamilnadu has made a good beginning.It must be sustained and pursued rigorously.It must not be ignored that unreasonable speed limits and controls will only loose respect and result in large scale violations.

Venkateswara Rao Ramanolla
May 12, 2021

Great initiative by the Govt of Tamilnadu

Venkateswara Rao Ramanolla
January 25, 2021

Great initiative by the Govt of Tamilnadu

January 26, 2021

Thanks for sharing this success story from Tamil Nadu and how bringing all stakeholders to the table makes the difference between becoming a crash victim or surviving a crash. Also great to see the World Bank Teams working together. Great Blog.

January 31, 2021

Great initiative and beautiful story to learn from Tamil Nadu.
Enforcement is a major challenge in my city, Accra atleast with our existing traffic laws. Using the digital enforcement and also identification of crash hotspot and pinpointing corrective actions can help us reduce road crash.

February 08, 2021

Great to see how all the pieces came together for Tamil Nadu. Thanks for this post.