3 years ago

Road safety still a distant dream

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The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) has recently formed a committee to review the draft national road safety strategic action plan. The plan of action aims to reduce the number of road accidents by half by 2024.

The apex body of road-sector stakeholders also formed another committee to recommend the implementation of the electric vehicle registration and operation guidelines-2018.

Road safety audit has been introduced in Bangladesh for the first time and opinions are being collected from stakeholders for a legal framework to ensure road safety.

The authorities asked the committee formed for the electric vehicle registration to submit a report within a month in order to implement the guideline.

The stakeholders at the NRSC meeting agreed on checking three wheelers vehicles on national highways and issuing registration through standardisation, he cited.

Despite an earlier decision to ban nasimon, karimon, bhatbhati, easy bike and CNG-run auto-rickshaw, many public representatives still lobby for the plying of the vehicles. All the development achievements would be in vain if road accidents could not be controlled even after having wider roads.

The anarchy in transport sector has, indeed, reached an intolerable height. Many are now saying that there ought to be someone at the policy-making level to realise the gravity of the issue and do the needful on a priority basis.

However, safety on the roads is again put in question following rising number of deaths in accidents. Indeed, an alarming rise in road accidents in the city in recent times has triggered grave concern among people from all sections of the society.

There is no denying that reckless driving is responsible for road mishaps but increased awareness of pedestrians and passengers is essential too. In fact, reckless driving, movement of unfit vehicles, gross violation and poor enforcement of traffic rules and regulations and lack of awareness among road users are to blame for the situation.

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) has, of late, admitted that thenumber of road accidents in the capital is on the rise.The situation did not improve even after an increased monitoring, they further informed adding that the police was unable to bring discipline on the roads alone amid limitations. Transport owners, drivers, passengers and pedestrians should cooperate in this regard, DMP held.

Transport analysts believe strict implementation of the country's existing laws is required to help prevent rising number of accidents. They say some of the infrastructure designs like flyover, overpass etc. were made without paying due attention to the space for pedestrians.

The Jatrabari-Gulistan flyover project was implemented after demolishing a foot over-bridge on Jatrabari intersection without going for any alternative. In the same way, the Mouchak-Malibagh flyover was built by bulldozing another key foot over-bridge on busy Moghbazar intersection in anidentical way. The space for movement of pedestrians is being squeezed.

Very recently, the government launched a drive against jaywalkers although most of the foot over-bridges in the capital have been grabbed by hawkers with their makeshift shops, creating hassles for the commuters.

According to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of the BUET, the national loss is estimated at Tk 50-70 billion every year because of road accidents. Almost 30 per cent of the national healthcare budget is used for road crash victims incurring a financial loss to the economy equivalent to 2.0 per cent of the country's GDP.

In fact, there is a need for increasing the road capacity of the national highways including Dhaka-Chittagong to accommodate traffic volume and set up speed breakers and road dividers as unplanned erection of these structures often cause accidents.

As citizens, passengers also have a role to play in ensuring road safety. While travelling by public-private transports, passengers should protest and stop speeding and reckless driving of vehicles. Owners of motor vehicles should ensure that the drivers employed by them have genuine licences, are  properly trained and drive responsibly. Road safety education to pedestrians, especially children, involving community leaders is also a good way to advance the cause.

Road accidents in Bangladesh are, indeed, on the rise in recent years and are presumed to aggravate further unless urgent action is taken. Motorised traffic is growing very rapidly in the country, with 400 new automobiles coming on to roads every day. Over the decade, the number of vehicles may double.

Although road traffic fatalities do raise commotion, they hardly lead to any comprehensive or sustained actions by the authorities. It is most likely that the tragedies that occurred very recently on the highways will be forgotten soon, without prompting any effective actions from the authorities.

A close look will certainly reveal a clear lack of accountability everywhere. The drivers seem to believe they can get away with road traffic fatalities. On the other hand, the law enforcers do not always show the desired urgency to enforce the rules and regulations to penalise the violators.

In order to ensure safety on the roads, an effective and comprehensive system of accountability should be put in place. That will make it possible not only to force the reckless drivers to face the music for their actions but also to bring the law enforcers to book for their inactions.         

In the wake of the widespread agitation for safe roads, some efforts have been made to correct the ills in the otherwise disorderly public transport system though the situation remains mostly as usual in the capital.

Quite a number of public buses continue to ply the city streets without legal documents, and pick and drop passengers on roads randomly. People were still risking their lives while crossing busy thoroughfares. Bikers drivetheir motorbikes on footpaths to avoid traffic jam -- a common sight on the city streets.

    However, in many parts of the city, police were seen strictly enforcing the traffic rules as they have been conducting a special drive against errant driver.

The associations of transport owners and workers were seen checking the licences of drivers and pressing the members to obtain legal documents for their vehicles.

But still things have not changed that much with the authorities pointing out that the problems and mismanagement that continued for years cannot be removed overnight.

In fact, none should hold a government responsible for road accidents. But when such accidents occur at regular intervals, and when nothing is done to improve road safety, ensure road worthiness of vehicles, and punish drivers who recklessly kill people, then certainly the role of the government comes to the fore.

Bangladesh has the highest per capita road accidents in the world, with the highest number of deaths per motorised vehicle on the road. This is an undeniable fact. There is no way sidetracking the grave issue. Dilapidated road conditions and rash driving of commercial vehicles are two foremost reasons for fatal accidents.

The present state of roads is a consequence of long neglect, and the authorities just cannot get away by blaming fund shortage.

The National Road Safety Council and Accident Prevention Cell of the communications ministry remains dysfunctional for a long time. Some years ago, the government took a comprehensive strategy to build awareness among bus and train drivers and enforce laws strictly to reduce road accidents.

But the road safety initiative could not move forward for unknown reasons. Creating public awareness about road accidents is impossible unless the government takes the lead.

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