Preventive actions are overdue
Every year, the number of road accidents shoot up before, during and after the Eid festivals. The Eid festivals induce a great deal of mobility. People in very great number move from their work places to enjoy the festivals at their places of origin in various districts and then to return to work places after the end of the holidays. One may say that the accidents are not to be seen as unusual in such a rush period. But such accidents are not only limited to festival time rush in this country. Road accidents in large number seem to be a regular feature of life in Bangladesh throughout the year. Even at the end of the recent Eid-ul-Azha festival a tragic highway accident took the lives of 15 people and 20 were injured in a head on collision between a bus and human hauler on the Natore-Pabna highway on Saturday.
The available statistics of road accidents in Bangladesh are not very accurate but whatever statistical information are available point to a high rate of the same. Road accidents in Bangladesh claim on average 4,000 lives annually and lead to about 5,000 injuries. The injury rate could be a masked one for many injuries or cases of disabilities from accidents are not reported. According to one study, the annual fatality rate from road accidents in Bangladesh is 85.6 per 10,000 vehicles which contrasts poorly even with 47.7 in Myanmar and 62.7 in Nepal. The fatality rate in Bangladesh from road accidents specially contrasts with the developed countries where the number of vehicles is many times higher. The fatality rate in those countries is below 3 per 10,000 vehicles. Thus, one should realise why Bangladesh is ranked as one of the most road accident prone countries of the world.
It should be obvious that time is more than ripe to do something of a concrete nature for preventing these road accidents. Apart from the human tragedies, the economic costs of such accidents are found to be great. The national cost estimates for road accidents in Bangladesh is Taka 39 billion, which is about 1.5 per cent of the GDP and three times the annual expenditures of the Roads and Highways Department. Thus, it needs no explanation why it is imperative to go all out to prevent the accidents from happening.
The first area of prevention must be improvement of the enforcement of traffic laws. The traffic police department must be made truly motivated to apply the rules with an eye for catching the offenders such as vehicles that overload, engage in speeding or the ones who do not maintain their vehicles. The rules must be enforced specially on the highways by highway policemen doing their work extensively, regularly and effectively.
A branch of the police for maintaining vigil over the highways went into operation some years ago. But it suffers from many deficiencies and it continues to be business as usual for the offenders even after its coming into existence. Therefore, the first task in order is revamping the activities and operations of the highway police. Policemen posted to maintain a watch over the highways should make it their priority to stop overloaded buses and trucks from operating. Many highway accidents occur from overloaded buses and trucks experiencing brake failures or their drivers losing control of the vehicles in overloaded conditions. Careless speeding is another major factor for road accidents in the highways. Highway policemen must ensure regular vigil along the lengths of the highways to warn, detain and fine offenders for speeding.
The training of drivers ought to be under rigorous inspection. Drivers are known to get their licenses too easily in Bangladesh through bribery. This practice must be put to an end and also the corruption in certifying vehicles as fit for movement in exchange of bribes. The physical conditions of the roads such as their proper paving and repairs need to be ensured. There are regulations that prohibit the plying of slower vehicles such as human haulers, auto rickshaws, etc. on the highways. Last Saturday’s accident was mainly caused by the operators of such a slower vehicle defying regulation and operating in a highway. The highway policemen must ensure through regular patrolling that such prohibited vehicles keep off the highways all the time. The mass media ought to carry publicities regularly to make all related persons conscious of playing their part in preventing road accidents. Capital punishment for reckless drivers should be reintroduced for its deterrent value.
The government is giving attention to many national problems. It should take up this issue of road accidents in its agenda for highest priority actions and set the stage for safer road conditions and hence fewer accidents.