16 days ago

No end of deaths on highways

Representational image
Representational image

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There is hardly anyone, even the bosses in the highway police department, who can deny the stark reality that roads and highways in the country have turned virtually into deathtraps, taking the number of deaths every day to an alarming height. The number of casualties and loss of properties may vary from case to case but a single day hardly passes when we do not receive agonising reports of deaths. Even people campaigning for safe roads met the fatal end of their lives in highway accidents but their cries proved to be too weak to rouse the agencies and departments concerned from deep slumber.

A peep into the tally of highway deaths during the recent Eid ul Adha holiday is well enough to convince one how risky travelling in Bangladesh has become. According to the Bangladesh Passengers' Welfare Association, at least 458 people were killed and 1,840 were injured in 309 road accidents across Bangladesh during the Eid-ul-Adha holiday this year. Comparing this year's data with the previous Eid-ul-Adha, the organisation said road accidents increased by 11.55 per cent, fatalities by 53.17 per cent, and injuries by 238.23 per cent.

Unsafe roads not only bring abrupt end to many promising lives but also inflict severe annual damage in financial terms. According to the World Bank study, improving road safety in Bangladesh is essential for national health, well-being, and economic growth. Reducing crash fatalities and injuries would not only save lives but also significantly bolster the nation's economy.

WB study finds that road accidents disproportionately affect young and working-age populations, which are crucial for economic productivity. The report highlights that road crash mortality has macroeconomic ripple effects, potentially depressing GDP growth rates. In countries like Bangladesh, achieving a 50 per cent reduction in fatalities could result in a 7 to 22 per cent increase in GDP over 24 years. This striking figure underscores the profound economic benefits of investing in road safety.

The economic losses from inaction in tackling road accidents are equally staggering. The WB report estimates that population welfare gains from achieving a 50 per cent reduction in fatalities could range from 6 to 32 per cent of GDP. This underscores the economic losses associated with inaction in tackling road accidents. The study indicates that human capital accounts for around two-thirds of a country's total wealth, far more than natural capital and produced capital. Investment in effective road crash fatality and injury prevention will contribute to the accumulation of human capital, which in turn will contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic growth and overall national wealth.

The increasing fatality rates in road accidents only mean that widespread protests for safe roads in the past failed to bring authorities concerned to their senses, nothing to say about their shoulderimg the responsibility for rising number of deaths from road accidents. Reckless driving of rundown vehicles by inexperienced and unskilled drivers is usually the main cause of soaring highway accidents. Faulty roads with risky turning points are also important factors in the increasing the number of road accidents. But poor traffic management, absence of patrol by highway police and the apathy of traffic police and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) in restoring order in traffic movement are no less responsible for high death rates.

Strict enforcement of speed limits, increased highway patrol, and the modernisation of traffic management are likely to reduce road accidents and casualties. However, many members of the highway police, who are responsible for enforcing traffic rules and road safety laws, are often seen glued to their smartphones or extorting bribes from truck drivers. Such dereliction of duty by the highway police contributes to making roads more dangerous.

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