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The Financial Express

Safe roads are a prerequisite for Smart Bangladesh


Safe roads are a prerequisite for Smart Bangladesh

One of the factors believed to accompany a country's development is the opportunity cost it has to incur sometimes, but if that translates into deaths of humans -- that too in an unabated manner, the cost is unaffordable. With more and more roads and highways coming up in the country and with them the number of vehicles increasing significantly, accidents and fatalities caused by road crashes are presenting a nightmarish spectacle. With 'Smart Bangladesh' slogan initiated lately to enliven the morale of the citizens, it is crucially important to urgently attend to some grisly aspects on the social front. Deaths under the wheels are certainly one of those.

Data on road accidents reveal an upsetting picture of rising numbers -- a trend conspicuous enough to tell that roads in the country are getting increasingly unsafe. At least 9,951 people were killed and 12,356 others injured in 6,749 road accidents across Bangladesh in 2022, said a report published in newspapers. The numbers of road accidents increased by 18.89 per cent and fatalities by 27.43 per cent in 2022 compared with those of 2021, a report of the Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh said. The numbers of road accidents and fatalities are highest in the last eight years, the report said. In 2022, a total of 550 people were killed and 201 more were injured in 606 railways accidents while 357 people were killed, 357 injured and 743 remained missing in the 262 waterways accidents. A total of 10,858 people were killed and 12,875 were injured in a total of 7,617 accidents on roads, railways and waterways. Accidents in most cases are caused by buses and trucks, though in recent times there has been a decline in bus crashes.

There is a noticeably new dimension in the nature of the road accidents lately. Motorbikes have become a brutal intruder causing increasing number of accidents. The highest percentage, 28.59 per cent, of accidents occurred where motorcycles were involved, followed by 24.50 per cent involving trucks-pickups-covered vans and lorries, 13.95 per cent buses, 11.42 per cent battery-powered rickshaws and easy bikes, 8.32 per cent nasimon, karimon, and lagunas, 6.95 per cent cars-jeep-microbuses, and 6.22 per cent accidents had CNG-powered auto-rickshaws involved in. The highest 52.02 per cent accidents occurred on regional highways followed by 27.7 per cent on national highways and 11.88 per cent on feeder roads. Out of all accidents, 5.67 per cent took place in the Dhaka city and 1.71 per cent took place in the Chattogram city. In 2022, the highest death toll in a single day in road accidents was on July 29 when 44 people were killed and 83 injured in 27 road accidents.

Road safety activists in the country have for long been emphasising the need for correcting some of the basic flaws in the country's road transport system. But these do not seem to have been heeded to at all. Ramshackle vehicles, visibly unfit for driving, still ply the roads, even the highways. Drivers, too, are sometimes found driving long distances without valid or proper licence. Over and above, the Road Transport Act passed in Parliament in 2018 following the countrywide safe road movement has not yet been implemented. Experts believe implementation of the law can reduce a great deal of the indiscipline on the roads and help curb accidents.

Clear enough, failure to implement the Road Transport Act is exacting a heavy price. It is strange that the Act that apparently addressed most issues concerning road safety is still unattended due to lack of cohesion among the stakeholders. It is reportedly the transport unions that are opposing implementation of the Act.

What in this regard appears intriguing is that in a discussion meeting organised on January 15 by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), the transport union leaders vehemently denied the veracity of the reports on increased deaths and injuries due to road crashes, and blamed the road safety campaigners for presenting untrue and made-up stories. One wonders what logic they had to term the reports made-up, and for what purpose? Obviously, the reports were based on day-to-day occurrences published in the newspapers. The road safety campaigners -- Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, Nirapod Sarak Chai, and Road Safety Foundation prepared the report, not just from news reports but on the basis of on-the spot confirmation also. The transport leaders' statement makes two things clear -- shirking the responsibility of maintaining road safety, and indirectly endorsing the road tragedies as not at all unusual.

Observers are of the opinion that blaming the transport leaders for their apparent apathy to road tragedies serves no purpose. The onus to make roads safe cannot be forced on them if they themselves do not consider it their duty in the first place.

So, what is required should come from the appropriate authorities through implementation of the aforementioned Act, and enforcement of required measures to do away with mismanagement of all sorts.

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