Ethics, Morality and Road Safety;

An Ethical and Moral Analysis of Road Safety Efforts from a Jurisprudential Point of View”


Much said and done, the issue of road safety in India is seen as an unresolvable problem. People have made their minds that fatalities and injuries are inevitable and part and parcel of lifewhich can never be solved. The problem itself is inherent in this fundamental assumption. There isno doubt, that the attempts have been made to minimize and control injuries and fatalities, but barring some nations it has not achieved the expected success rate. All nations are struggling to achieve the goal of minimizing the fatalities causing due to road traffic. But the real question now is how far we have got control over it? Have we achieved the goals? 

On the other hand, what needs to be given due consideration is that law and policies are in place in many countries. Infrastructure and other required facilities are in place. Then where does the problem lie? The answer to this question lies somewhere in the notions of morality and ethics. It is worthwhile to note that considerations regarding the road safety play vital role in understanding this road safety challenges. Are we taking into consideration the ethical and moral dimensions while framing the road safety measures? The answer to this might be given in affirmative, but there is scope for further questions such as, in what manner we have considered these concerns? To unravel the answers we need to go to the roots of the ethical and moral dimensions underlying road safety concerns. This article is an attempt to establish the nexus between ethical, moral considerations and road safety efforts from a jurisprudential point of view.

Why do people follow traffic rules? ; A Jurisprudential Investigation

Why do people obey law?Jurists have given different dimensions to this question.  The positivist notion as propounded by John Austin, states that people obey law because of the imperative nature of law, originatingin the form ofCommand of the Sovereign and more importantly due to sanctions or punishments attached to it. Applying this definition, traffic rules are also promulgated by the Parliament having the force of law and are supported by the sanctions and punishments. Does this ensure that people follow traffic rules to the fullest?Unfortunately the reality is that despite laws and punishments being in place; non obedience of traffic rules not only persists but is increasing day by day. This is testimony to the fact that the expected deterrent effect of punishment is not working.

In another school of thought, Hans Kelsen has given the normative approach to law. According to him law is a normative science and operates in the form of norms. Every legal rule is the ‘norm’ meaning the settled pattern of behavior generally accepted by the people. All legal norms get the authority from the ultimate source called ‘Grund Norm’.  Drawing legal analogy from this school of thought it is safe to say that the constitution of a country can be seen as the grund norm and all other statutes can be called as norms. Road Safety legislations can be termed as ‘norms’.Kelsenfurther adds that the reason behind obedience to law lies in its normative nature. Law being a norm is easily accepted and followed in the society. Does this apply in case of traffic rules? Are they a part of settled and accepted norms of our society? Unfortunately, these questions are all answered in the negative. Indian society has currently not accepted traffic rules and road safety measures as a part of our social and ethical norms. They are yet to become part of our standard patterns of behavior.

Another Jurist Prof. H. L. A. Hart has propounded the theory of rules which says that law is the system of rules. Rules, according to him are divided into two broad categories, – Primary and Secondary. Primary rules are the rules that lay down standards of behavior and rules of obligation. They impose duties (for example the Constitution of a country), whereas secondary rules are the specific ways (Statutes) in which primary rules can be ascertained, introduced, changed or enforced. Applying this to the current context, traffic rules form the part of the secondary rules.  He furtherlays down that people follow law not because of any sanction but because of the ‘obligation’. He says law is concerned with ‘obligation’ rather than coercion. It now remains to be seen to what extent this theory applies in contemporary road safety rules. Do we observe traffic rules because of an obligation? We followtraffic rules because we are under obligation to do so and by doing so we are not obliging. This is our duty which has to be taken into consideration.

According to Dean Roscoe Pound theprimary aim and function of law is to mitigate the conflicting interests arising due to scarcity of resources and minimizing friction and waste. He has categorized interests into three broad categories Private, Public and social. According to him, these are conflicting and competing with each other, mainly due to scarce resources and the unending desires of human being. Applying this analogy to the present road safety mechanism, we can say that the road safety is part of private as well as public interest. Both have a right to look into the matters of road safety. Every individual is at freedom to use and utilize his personal liberties of movement and on the other hand the State, as the guardian of law and order is keen on controlling and regulating the traffic rules and their violations.

The social engineering theory also known as the functional approach to law, suggests that it is the duty of the lawyers and judges to balance these conflicting interests with minimum friction and waste. From this point of view, we must take into consideration that the conflict between the individual and State still persists as long as the State is exercising its power to control the traffic violations. Will the State be able to take total control over such violations? Again the answer is in negative.

The point being made with the above discussion is that, to make people obey traffic rules one must investigate the roots of law. We have to find out why exactly people are following laws and why they continue to do so in the long run.  The one thing that is clear is that there are larger reasons behind people’s obedience to the law than sanctions, punishments or obligations.  Referring to the Indian context, we have never taken into consideration the ethical and moral perspectives implied in road safety efforts. The efforts have not been designed keeping in mind these ethical and moral dimensions of law. We have always stressed more on the sanction and punishment part of law rather than the value base. The time has arrived to give the due considerations to the ethical and moral concerns of road safety.

The Swedish Case: Ethical and moral concerns of Road Safety

One remarkable example to refer is that ofSweden. The Swedish Government,in the year 1994 started an initiative named ‘Vision Zero’ based on the Norwegian Model. Vision Zero is the Swedish approach to road safety mechanism which has principally adopted the aim of Zero Fatalities. The principle on which this initiative based is “No loss of life is acceptable”. The initiative has proved to be highly successful in controlling and decreasing the fatalities in Sweden. Based on the simple fact that we are human and make mistakes, it emphasizes that the road system needs to keep us moving but it must also be designed to protect us at every turn. Adopting these kinds of ethical principles makes implementation smoother.

The Vision Zero document mentions that, “Every nation, of course, has its own set of issues to address in regards to road safety. Specific conditions might differ from those in Sweden, but we believe that the will to protect the lives and health of men, women and children is a universal one. The Vision Zero Initiative offers you access to the experience and knowledge of those involved in Swedish road safety.”[i]

This model has proved fruitful in the case of Sweden. The number of fatalities is reduced to a great extent. With due considerations to the differences persisting in the situations of  Sweden and India still there is scope to think and initiate a scheme on similar lines. During the period 1996-2011, the total number of fatalities decreased by 38 percent. The number of fatalities among road users was decreased by between 30 and 60 percent from 1996 to 2011. During 2011, 15 children aged 0-17 years were killed, representing a decline by 70 percent compared to 1996.[ii] These statistics are inspiring. This gives us an insight to revisit the Indian framework regarding road safety mechanism. We can definitely incorporate the ethical considerations while framing the road safety policies. Although the situations and conditions in India and Sweden are different to a great extent, still there is hope to initiate some steps which will take us further towards the vision of zero fatalities.

Concluding remarks

Ethical and moral consideration is an important factor of human personality. Every individual starts learning in his family way before being introduced to the formal education system in schools. Children start observing their parents at a very early age. They observe behavior of their parents minutely and start imitating that. This is the first step where we have to be cautious about behaviourswhich we want them to emulate. If we want our children to be safe on roads and to follow all the traffic rules, then we have to make sure that we are setting an example by obeying all the rules. Unfortunately in India, we have not given these considerations any place in our value systems and more often than not, feel comfortable in blatantly flaunting traffic rules.

 It is the need of an hour which necessitates reinstating our firm faith in the values and ethical principles. The question of what is wrong and what is right inherently depends on an individual. Our conscience should tell us and warn us before violating any traffic rule. It is not that people are unaware of the laws in place or consequent punishments. They are only reluctant to obey it, strengthened in their belief that the punishments will likely not be enforced. In this situation the only probable solution is enriching and strengthening our ethical and moral perspectives in this regards. And what better starting point than beginning by setting an example for our families.


[1] Assistant Professor, Modern Law College, Pune, Maharashtra (India)

[i]The Vision Zero is the Swedish approach to road safety thinking. For more information please visit, retrieved on 15/10/2017 at 3.00pm

[ii]  The detailed report is available on,  retrieved on 20.11.2017 at 3pm