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‘Improved roads, regulations, and attitude can cut road fatalities in Bangladesh’

  • Published at 12:32 am May 20th, 2019
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Soames Job at an interview with Dhaka Tribune Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

In an interview with Dhaka Tribune's Md Saidun Nabi, Soames Job, head of the Global Road Safety Facility and Global Lead for Road Safety at the World Bank, shared his insights on road safety in Bangladesh

Bangladesh should focus on improving road engineering, enforcement of speed management and change in user behaviour to significantly reduce road crash casualties, suggested a top World Bank official.

He discussed the issues and gave his views on many important issues concerning road safety in Bangladesh.

What are some of the best road safety practices that Bangladesh can adopt?

The roads need to be fixed so our mistakes do not result in deaths or serious injury. We also have to fix our faulty vehicles so that they become more safe and secure. And also, users need to change their behavior on the roads. For instance, head-on crashes are frequent on highways… Instead of thinking that highway drivers will drive perfectly, we can put down road dividers in the middle of roads to reduce head-on crashes. Road engineering can give us  great value in this regard.

In fact, road engineering is the first broad learning in many countries. The second thing that we can give priority to, is managing speed. Luckily, Dhaka roads are so congested most of the day time that this saves many lives. But at night, when there is less traffic, the scenario changes and vehicles run at higher speeds. However, speed management is still a critical issue.

What about enforcement of the law when traffic rules are broken?

Fining people (for violating traffic rules) is of course a legitimate way to manage speed. Installing of speed bumps can also be of great use to this end. There can be crossings for pedestrians as well. So, it is a better option rather than jumping straight into educating people which does not work particularly well in such cases.

Enforcement (of the law) also works. The combination of enforcement and speed management works incredibly well. The third thing that I think countries have learnt very well, which would really be very fitting here (in Bangladesh), is how to do behavioral change. And it is important that we have a good licensing system, which is closely linked to human psychology. It says to a road user: I can’t circumvent the rules… I need to obey the rules. Enforcement has no impact if a person is ready to run the risk of losing his license and the right to drive. It is important that people change their behavior, and then, we can move towards enforcement. You need a leading authority on road safety for better coordination of road safety.

What about emergency response after an accident?

Well, post-crash care or an emergency rescue system is also something that needs special attention. More systematic and reactionary response soon after an accident can save a lot of lives. Introduction of a single authority, which can coordinate all stakeholders, can deal with the matter very well.

Is a five-year jail term enough, the maximum punishment for road fatalities in Bangladesh, to stop the deaths galore?

Often we speak of increasing the penalty for road fatalities, but enhancing the perception that offenders will be caught can work greatly. So, enforcement is like a chain. The weakest link is where you have to act. But I believe the five-year sentence is enough to motivate people. The sentence is not the problem; the problem is that people generally believe they will not cause a crash. In most cases, people think they are better than the average driver which is why they become confident about not committing a fatal crash. Enforcement is more powerful than education in that respect.

Road crashes claimed more than 7,000 lives annually in 2017 and 2018 in Bangladesh. How severe do you find is the scenario?

The data is not perfect… people don’t report crashes often. It’s difficult to compare countries in that sense. But I think Bangladesh is suffering as there are a very significant number of deaths. And, we know, for every death there are many serious injuries. For every fatality, there can be between 15 and 30 serious injuries, depending on the country. In Australia the ratio of deaths to injured is over 1:30. If we have 7,000 fatalities in Bangladesh, the number of the injured will be much higher. The total range of suffering is huge and this is the vital reason why the World Bank has immense interest in road accidents. Apart from people’s suffering, accidents can also drive the affected and their families into poverty. The majority of  deceased in Bangladesh are males. And unlike other causes of death, road accidents mostly affect young people between the ages of 15 and 25. So, people who are about to become economically productive or are just at the start of their economic contribution to the country, are prone to road fatalities. Hence, this is more than a human capital tragedy. Other than human tragedy, the economic consequence worsens due to road accidents. If a family loses its breadwinner to a road crash, it can fall victim to poverty as well.