Road accident is a major killer in Bangladesh. The tragedies from motor vehicle collisions in the country are in a word horrifying. The waterways are also not free from tragedies caused by ferry disasters. Strangely, the railways are witnessing accidents not from collisions between trains, but from trains crashing into buses, trucks or other kinds of automobile at the level crossings!
More worrisome than these accidents is the total lack of concern, or worse, a kind of 'collective amnesia', about such disasters with the passage of time. That as a people we have little concern about the rail, road or waterway tragedies will become evident if one wants to have a correct statistics on, say, the number of road mishaps that happened last year. Same will be the answer if asked about the casualty figures.
Sad to say, there is no reliable database in the country on transport-related accidents. Neither has the government any provision to finance research to create a database on the subject either at the public or private level.
But considering the number of the deaths from the accidents, which is on the rise, it can be compared to a medical emergency. But there is practically no national level effort to keep tabs on the issue. It is undoubtedly a sad commentary on the nation's preparedness against an emergency of such proportions.
True, the police maintain a record of the fatalities arising from accidents on the road or from other modes of communication. But the police do not actively work to gather information on such accidents. In fact, they are not entrusted with the task. Actually, accident-related figures with the police are based on the First Information Reports (FIRs) lodged with them after an accident takes place. So, the record they have is a passively collected one and it cannot also be said to be complete or hundred per cent reliable.
Even so, the government as well as various private research bodies rely on the police-provided data on the number of road-related or other kinds of accident or casualty occurring during a particular period of time. Needless to say, those are just the tip of the iceberg. A few private organisations that keep track of the accidents depend on media reports.
Unfortunately, the data from these private bodies vary widely and that is so for obvious reasons. One such organisation, the Road Safety Foundation (RSF), recently revealed their findings on the number of road mishaps all over the country and casualties from them last year. According to it, from around 50,371 road accidents, 60,284 people lost their lives in the country in 2021. Former film star, Ilias Kanchan-led pro-road safety movement, Nirapad Sarak Chai Andolan [(we) want safe road movement], on the other hand, reported a casualty figure of 4,289 from 3,793 motor vehicle crashes. The police record is learnt to have a lower death figure from road mishaps of around 3,500 for 2021.
But all such figures, according to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), are the results of underreporting. The figure should be at least four to five times higher than those supplied by the two aforementioned private bodies. The reason, it holds, is that many accidents, especially those that take place in areas far from the urban centres, remain unreported.
However, what came out of an ARI study on the issue is mindboggling-45 deaths per 10,000 registered motor vehicles in the country! Consider that in India the rate is 10.2, for UK it is 0.8, for USA, 1.4 and for Australia, 0.9.
This ARI study should be a stark reminder for the government. To know what is happening on the roads, the government should at least establish a centre that would develop a reliable database on the issue.