A World Bank Hackathon Is Improving Lives In Kerala

Kerala has a traffic problem. The small Indian state, with a population of over 33 million, suffers around 40,000 accidents per year, with thousands of fatalities. Road safety is a major concern for the people of Kerala. Authorities have taken an innovative approach toward improving road safety and toward saving lives. Kerala Road Safety Hackathon is a partnership initiative between the World Bank, IFC and AXA, in association with the Kerala Road Safety Authority and Department of Information Technology, supported by AngelHack and GTech and will take place on August 15th. They’re drawing on the creative energy and competitive spirit of the world’s software and technology experts; the field is set for what has the potential to be a remarkable display of international cooperation, innovation and humanitarian spirit.

Road Safety in Kerala

First, we should go over the road safety situation in Kerala. Of the 29 states in India, Kerala is rated the third highest in road accident risk. An average day sees 11 fatalities and 50 serious injuries, with pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle/moped riders suffering the large proportion of injuries and deaths. Forty percent of the two-wheeled vehicles in the state are involved in road accidents every year. Overall statistics frame the unsafe traffic conditions in Kerala — in 2011, there were 4,145 fatalities and 40,709 reported accidents. The problem is a significant drain on the local population, and solving it is a major long-term goal for Keralan authorities.

One might be forgiven for thinking that Kerala is a lost cause, but that’s not the case at all. Some progress is already being made, but there is still a long way to go. Road accidents in Kerala have been displaying an interesting but unfortunate trend. Even though the overall number of accidents has started to fall, there has been an increase in fatalities. The question is, “Why are there fewer accidents but more deaths?” The local authorities have tried conventional approaches to improve road safety, such as installing speed cameras and implementing stern enforcement measures, but their attempts at curbing fatal accident rates haven’t stemmed the tide. It might even be that their new enforcement methods are in some way at the heart of rising fatality rates, but the general impression is that current measures are insufficient and need significant changes.

Tech Solutions to the Rescue

This is where the World Bank partnership comes into play. The ability of tech solutions to solve old problems that have proven frustrating or impossible to overcome is well known, and the rising status of the Indian technology sector provides an amazing springboard for the resources and support provided by the World Bank and its co-sponsors. In addition to the World Bank, IFC and AXA, the hackathon is backed by the Kerala Road Safety Authority, the Department of Information Technology and supported by AngelHack and GTech (Industry Partner). The expected developer turnout is between 125 and 150 talented experts from across India, coming together for a two-day session to build working technology and software solutions for local road safety.

Saving lives is the goal of this hackathon, and the backers are putting their money where their hearts are. Road Safety Commissioner R. Sreelekha has said that all solutions developed by the hackathon will be passed on to the public free of charge. The goal is to focus completely on solutions in the form of inexpensive gadgets and software that can be installed in vehicles. Four major concepts play a role in directing their efforts: engineering, enforcement, education and emergency care management. By targeting these four concepts that encompass the entire arena of road safety from the classroom to the hospital, the hackathon partnership hopes to cover all the foundations contributing to road accidents and subsequent fatalities. If they manage to create viable solutions, the results should be present on Kerala’s roads within six months. Following successful introduction to the population at large, it is hoped that the road situation will be on a new, and much more effective, path towards improved safety.

Lessons Learned

Inspirational initiatives like the Kerala Road Safety Hackathon should be taken to heart. As technology professionals, we have an amazing opportunity to create new and cost-effective solutions that can improve the lives of millions. Kerala has the advantage of a network of wealthy backers with its hackathon, which represents one of many possible paths towards development of solutions. More traditional paths, such as those found in the corporate environment, also play a role. But we should never limit ourselves to cooperation with financial and tech giants.

We’ve all heard the cliched motivational stories of garage-based startups and local success stories. Problems like those faced in Kerala are prevalent everywhere in the world, and we don’t have to wait for authorities or leadership to make solutions of our own. For every major developers conference and tech convention, there are thousands of smaller moments in time when people who are intimately aware of local problems cross paths. Find a local hackerspace, go to a meetup or approach a sponsor. Find a need and fill it.

Kerala is about to experience an unprecedented event for developers and industry experts. On August 22, 2015, there is major potential for a positive change in the traffic conditions of one of India’s most dangerous states for drivers. The potential for this kind of action to take place around the world is phenomenal, and in many ways it is already being put into action every day. There are always local problems that can be solved in innovative ways by the new approaches offered by software and technology.