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Looking at ourselves

  • Published at 05:45 pm September 13th, 2018
This needs to stop
This needs to stop Photo: RAJIB DHAR

Public awareness will go a long way to keeping our roads safer

Road accidents have arguably become the number one issue of discussion in Bangladesh for its frequency and number of casualties. Social media has certainly contributed significantly in making such discussions even more prevalent.

Most of us have become so accustomed to road accidents that there’s little to no reaction when we go through the news regarding deaths of several people -- be it adults, children, or infants. We hardly even bat an eyelash. 

That all changed after the deaths of two students, and further injuries to several students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College as a result of a fatal road accident. Nothing but reckless driving was to be blamed for such a horrific incident. The long-suppressed reaction of people regarding road accidents finally reached a tipping point, resulting in a massive reaction fuelled primarily through a students’ movement, demanding safer roads.

Why do road accidents happen? Who are responsible for accidents? We always argue about the country’s defective system, but the system alone is not responsible; citizens should be equally held responsible for these incidents. How many of us truly follow the traffic rules properly? 

Why are the owners of public transport so profit-hungry that they dare to operate their vehicles without proper fitness papers? How do these vehicles, without proper registration, ply in the city area in broad daylight in front of traffic police?

How are adolescent boys who should probably be in school, and are certainly not old enough to have a legal license, allowed to drive human haulers? 

So many questions can be raised, but perhaps it is wiser to question ourselves first. We, as a whole, are responsible for the prevailing situation, and thus the causes for road accidents.

The government is trying to amend the existing law in order to decrease the number of road accidents and ensure road safety, but it cannot bring about change overnight. Nor will change ever come unless the concerned, that is us the general public, become aware and do the needful.  

According to reports, about a hundred people were killed in road accidents during Eid-ul-Azha. A head-on collision between two buses left 13 people dead in Natore. Last week, a woman with a child was ruthlessly hit by a bus at Kushtia, rekindling the topic of road accidents and road safety on social media. The death of that child once again shook the nation.

Road accidents are particularly devastating to families of the victims. We find that often, the earning member of the family solely responsible for the sustenance of the family dies in these accidents. Their children, waiting for their parent’s return, are left with the crushing reality that their parent is no more. No more birthdays, no more gifts. 

When will we stop seeing and reading such devastating news with such frequency? It is high time both the government and the people changed their approach towards ensuring road safety. As the old saying goes, “prevention is better than cure.” 

Usually, the concerned authority shows certain promptness and takes some immediate steps after accidents take place. Local authorities form committees to investigate the cause of the accident, and to bring those responsible for it into custody. But in isolation, these steps will never be sufficient in ensuring better road safety -- it is proactive steps to preventing disasters that can truly bring change to road safety.

The recent steps for road safety taken by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) are really praiseworthy. These include the banning of human haulers on the streets of Dhaka, refusal of fuel without a helmet for motorcycle riders, and a month long traffic rules implementation and awareness program -- all of which shall surely bring change. It is time respective authorities all over the country learn from the example set by DMP, implementing their own steps to ensuring safer roads.

The root causes of road accidents are well known. Accidents and traffic mismanagement on roads and highways cannot be resolved in one day, but proactive steps and actions are what we need today to minimize the number of road accidents and ensure road safety. 

Strict enforcement of traffic rules, due punishment for road accidents, and public awareness can bring about a change. We, as a nation, have achieved milestones in addressing poverty, hunger, education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, and population control. Road safety should be our next milestone. 

Abu Yousuf Sumon is a freelance contributor.