Globally, road dust is a major source of inhalable particulate matter in any urban environment. This research seeks to assess the elemental composition of road dust at Vellore city, India, and to evaluate its health risks. For this, dust samples are collected from 18 locations in the study region. The collected samples are digested and analysed for about 25 elements using inductively coupled plasma–optical emission spectroscopy, of which 19 elements have concentration greater than the detection limit of the instrument (Al, Ba, Ca, Mg, Sr, Co, Cr, Cu, Fe, Ga, Zn, In, K, Li, Mn, Na, Ni, Pb and Rb). The highest mean concentration is noted for Fe (22,638.23 mg/kg) followed by Ca (13,439.47 mg/kg), Al (8445.89 mg/kg) and Mg (3381.20 mg/kg). Enrichment factor (EF) and contamination factor (CF) are calculated for 10 trace elements: Cu, Co, Cr, Ga, Mn, Ni, Pb, Rb, Sr and Zn. Elements Ga and Zn show the highest EF and CF. Source identification recognized that crustal material and traffic as the major sources of potentially toxic elements (PTEs). Further, the health risk assessment is performed for nine PTEs and identifies that Fe, Pb, Cr and Co are elements with the highest health index. Health index of these elements suggests a possible health risk. Ingestion is the major pathway, and children are found to be at a higher risk compared to adults. © 2020, Springer Nature B.V.