A report prepared by the Nirapad Sarak Chai (NISACHA), a social campaign group, claims that the number of road accidents in 2016 came down to 2,316 from 2,626 in the year before it. The number of casualties also dropped to 4,144 in the just concluded year from 5,003 in the year 2015. Another group called the Bangladesh Jatri Kollyan Samity, however, gives a much higher fatality figure for 2015 with 8,642 killed and 21,855 injured from 581 road accidents.
If the claim made by the NISACHA is anywhere close to the actual figures, the country has been making quite some progress in reducing both road accidents and casualties. According to it, there has been a steady decline on both counts. In 2014, the number of people killed in road accidents was the highest at 6,582. So deaths in such accidents fell by 23.98 per cent the next year (2015) and the percentage dropped even further by 17.16 in 2016.
Had it been the case, most people would be happy for the 'progress' made in arresting road accidents. If compared with figures put forward by various other national and international organisations, the NISACHA casualties look more than modest. Only the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) advances a lower figure of casualties than it. According to the BRTA, only 3,000 people die on an average in road accidents annually. A World Bank (WB) study conducted in 2010, though, claims that as many as 12,000 people die in such accidents. Clearly, this figure is on the high side but a World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2011 found the figure even higher at about 18,000.
The discrepancy is so wide that it is difficult to be convinced of the credibility of anyone. If the BRTA and NISACHA figures are too low to satisfy one, the wide margin between the figures put forward by the WB and WHO, international organisations of repute, so far as their reports are concerned, makes one confused. No one would believe that 6,000 more people died in road accidents within a year (from 2010-2011).
What or who is to blame for such discrepancies? Some of the blame goes to the chaos prevailing on roads and the system of record keeping in this country. Yet at a time when the country is poised to get digitised, an authentic data set on road accidents should no longer elude the nation. National statistics in almost all areas are suspect because there is an overt attempt to project a taller than the real image of the country. The positives are usually exaggerated because there is no easy way of verifying those. Similarly the negatives are downplayed in order to skirt around the darker side. Human nature is such that it tries to highlight the plus points when the purpose is to project an image from one's own point of view. Again, the many negatives or downsides are hidden from public view. However, when it comes to collective or national life, there is a limit to such exercises. Or else, distorted figures can imperil a nation's journey on the road to progress.
For example, if casualty figures of road accidents are not authentic, how can the authorities plan for corrective measures? Lower road fatalities mean low incidence and rules out drastic measures and conversely high incidence is indicative of a need for major corrective measures, and urgently. In case of road accidents, usually accusing fingers are pointed at inept, unskilled and rash driving. But little attempt is made to delve deeper into the problem. Do drivers on long routes get enough rest or sleep? Apart from a few highly reputed bus companies operating in the country, the majority put their drivers through unimaginable rigour. When a driver has completed a long distance assignment on a night coach, he is tasked to sit at the steering wheel on the return journey barely with two hours' or even in some cases half an hour's rest. If the man feels drowsy or even falls asleep on the steering wheel, there is hardly any reason to blame him. Because such drivers' wages are paltry and dependent on the number of trips they complete, they themselves volunteer to make an extra trip. All this is a potential source of accidents.
So, not only novice drivers but also experienced ones can get involved in fatal accidents. There are similar other reasons behind their unstable behaviour when they are at the steering wheel. Drunk driving is not uncommon. Sometimes the drivers bring their family feuds to the roads and their uncontrollable temper leads to accidents. The issue of mechanical causes too needs to be attended regularly. But little attention is given to this vital aspect.
Now the need is to catalogue the various causes responsible for road accidents. Once their breakdowns are known, remedial measures can be suggested and taken to bring the system in order. If rundown vehicles have to be detected for taking them off the street, transports of varying speeds using the same lane invite troubles. Unless the highways can be turned into four lanes like the one of Dhaka-Chittagong and slow and fast moving vehicles become used to running accordingly, the risk of accidents will loom large. So the need is to get the annual data of accidents correct before planning for remedial measures.