3 areas to focus on to improve road safety
It is clear that the frequency of road accidents has increased dramatically, causing the death and injury of thousands of people in Bangladesh each year.
According to the Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association (BPWA), 7,397 people lost their lives in 4,979 road accidents throughout Bangladesh in 2017, while another 16,193 were injured. Their data further shows that 6,055 people died and 15,914 were injured in 4,312 accidents in 2016. In 2015, a total of 8,642 people died and 21,855 people were injured from 6,581 accidents across Bangladesh.
These numbers do not lie.
It is extremely tragic to watch the news about accidents on social media and on television. A road accident steals many lives of innocent children, men, and women while injuring countless others.
We send them our sincere condolences, we send our prayers, but how much longer must we accept this dreadful scenario? Is there any way to save our nations from such shocking road accidents?
More importantly, who is responsible for these deadly accidents? Are we condemned to only look at dead bodies and wipe our tears? Is there a solution? What are the causes, and why are we not taking further steps to curb these devastating road accidents?
If we look at the nature of road accidents in Bangladesh, in most cases, we find that the accidents happened as a result of some kind of errant behaviour, which can surely be dealt with it.
Then there is the hazardous state of our roads -- narrow road structures cause vehicles to slip. There are potholes and cracks on the roads, uneven speed breakers (some without the paint marking them), and unhealthy competition between buses can cause vehicles to lose control and crash or hit other vehicles and people.
So, if we can understand and point out the problems, why cannot we solve the problem?
It is clear that there are three major reasons for road crashes -- unskilled drivers, corruption in infrastructure development, and unfit and unregistered vehicles.
According to BRTA, there are 2.9 million registered motor vehicles, but only 1.9 million licensed drivers. That means 1 million untrained drivers are driving vehicles illegally, risking the lives of the passengers in the process.
Even trained drivers sometimes drive recklessly. While the drivers are on the road, it is a common sight to see them involve themselves in competition to overtake others vehicles, talking over the phone, taking drugs, talking to passengers or others. Instead of respecting traffic rules, they turn their heads the other way. Therefore, it is essential to train and bring drivers, especially bus and CNG drivers, under the law.
There is another important issue, one that we common people do not consider -- some drivers work continuously for longer hours than their stipulated schedules.
This can be due to long traffic congestions, roadblocks, and inefficient use of manpower in the transportation sector. Many cover long distances and do not get proper accommodation facilities for taking sufficient rest.
They normally sleep at the bus terminal, which makes them tired mentally and physically. As a result, when they are on duty, sitting on the driving seat, there is a tendency to doze off.
Hence, bust companies must take care of their drivers by providing accommodation in a healthy environment. Transport companies should also appoint two drivers for the long routes.
Corruption in infrastructure development
Smooth roads are the key to minimizing road accidents. Accidents usually take place due to big potholes or damaged roads, lack of soiling, muddy and narrow roads, and the absence of road signs, traffic lights, or speed breakers.
It is unfortunate that the authorities involved in maintaining these uneven road conditions avoid roads and highway-related complaints, uttering budget constraints.
But in fact, every year, the government allocates a huge amount of money towards road and highway development. But things never seem to change.
If the budget for roads and highways was utilized fully, and ethically, none of our roads would be in such poor condition.
Unfit vehicles are susceptible to brake failure, gear changing problems, engine overheating, flat tires, and other problems.
There need to be routine checks of the vehicles before setting out for the road. But, negligence causes drivers to rarely do this.
There are thousands of unregistered vehicles in Bangladesh which are frequently involved in accidents. Therefore, we urge the authorities to take appropriate steps so that no more lives are lost for these senseless reasons.
Muhammad Mehedi Masud is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Development Studies, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya, Malaysia.