Road accidents: where is the end?Admin
by Md Shariful Islam and Sumaiya Sabrin Eva
Our roads are killing machines that take more than 4,000 lives every year yet we are silent. Sad as it may seem, there was little noise when 43 schoolchildren died in a bus mishap in Mirsarai and no outpouring of national grief over that. However, Mishuk and Tareque’s death have created that environment in which the matter has brought attention and concern. But the differing public reactions must be understood to be utilised for the greater good
Afsan Chowdhury, ‘Do we need a Mishuk and a Tareque to die before something can be done?’ Dhaka Courier, August 27
IT IS needless to say that road accidents have reached such a level that one can see this as an epidemic in Bangladesh that is taking more lives than any disease. According to a World Health Organisation and World Bank study conducted in 2004, road accident victims occupy around 25 to 30 per cent of hospital beds in government hospitals. Maniruzzaman and Raktim Mitra, in their study claimed that ‘the number of accidents has increased by 43 per cent between 1982 and 2000 while the number of fatalities has increased by around 400 per cent within the same period’ (KM Maniruzzaman and Raktim Mitra, ‘Road accidents in Bangladesh’ in IATSS Research, Volume 29, No 2, 2005, p 71). The figure indicates that not only the occurrence of accidents is on the rise but also the severity of accidents is increasing. It will be clearer from the following table:
Road safety record in Bangladesh is indeed very dismal. According to a report of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, 6,723 people have been killed in nearly 8,000 road accidents between 2008 and 2009, and a similar number of people have sustained injuries. The figure has doubled from that of 2004. The fatality rate in Bangladesh is 50 per cent higher than the West (The Daily Star, August 25, 2010). The actual figure may be higher since many accidents don’t get reported at all. And the loss in terms of money is staggering.
This rate has increased drastically recently and without any doubt this high rate of fatal accidents in Bangladesh is totally unacceptable and cause for alarm. Five hundred people were killed in the highways due to road accidents during the last six months of 2010. The figure for the first six months of 2011 is probably significantly higher. According to official statistics, road accidents in Bangladesh claim on an average 12,000 lives annually and lead to about 35,000 injuries (The Financial Express, August 10). 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 developing countries is below three per 10,000 vehicles (The Financial Express, August 10). Therefore, Bangladesh is one of the most road accident prone countries in the world.
But, we must react and immediately take action to stop this. We must stress the need for creating mass awareness among the general people regarding safe road behaviour. Most of the accidents are caused due to carelessness of the drivers or reckless driving and unsafe behaviour in streets, reflecting the lack of awareness among the people. It is vital that all stakeholders including the media, NGOs, students, civil society activists and also the government should work together to build awareness about road accidents. Traffic and safety rules should be included in primary and secondary level education to teach the youngsters about safe road behaviour.
Furthermore, a well-designed road infrastructure must be developed and better training of drivers provided. Most importantly, the authorities concerned, particularly Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, must be free from corruption. All of this must be ensured to minimise the chances of road accidents and subsequent casualties. According to the news media, BRTA started issuing licence without any test in 1990 and so far issued four out of six lakh licences on the application of different labour organisations which is very alarming. It is very shocking that, during 2006-2009, the BRTA issued 10,000 professional driving licences without any driving test or exams on the application of Shajahan Khan’s Road Transport Workers Federation.
According to a report of New Age, ‘The parliamentary standing committee on the labour and employment ministry also blamed the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority for frequent traffic accidents. It observed that irregularities and negligence of the road transport agency in issuing driving licences to properly trained drivers was responsible for the accidents. They also claimed that the agency had issued registration for 44,000 vehicles on an average a year but it issues only 11,000 driving licences a year, which prompted untrained people to run vehicles that cause such accidents’ (New Age, August 17). One of the major reasons for road accident is the corruption of the traffic police. Even when they know that a driving licence or a fitness certificate is not accurate, they look the other way in exchange of money.
It is very unfortunate that every day people are killed by careless drivers but nobody pays attention to them. It is likely that everybody accepts it as a common affair that will continue to happen. Only those who lost dear ones know the pain. Many families have lost their only earning member of their family to road accidents and they suffer emotionally and financially all the year round. There are many others who are severely injured but don’t get proper treatment because of poverty. The amount of loss incurred by road accidents is immeasurable.
Now, the burning question is: where is the end of road accidents? Isn’t there a solution to this? We think a solution would have been found if ministers were killed by these incompetent drivers instead of common people. Road accidents will be reduced if the illiterate, unqualified drivers, who only know the distinction between goats and cows, are not allowed to have driving licences. A strong political will, transparency and accountability are essential for road safety.
Md Shariful Islam and Sumaiya Sabrin Eva are students of international relations at the University of Dhaka.