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1 February, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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Road accident: Should we blame the drivers only?

We need more zebra crossings, barricades in the middle of the street, and the pedestrians should use foot over bridges to strengthen the traffic control system
Road accident: Should we blame the drivers only?

The death toll from traffic accidents continue to rise. Every day we see report of accidents. People in general tend to hold the drivers responsible for all sorts of traffic accidents. After every accident most people see to automatically assume that the drivers are the only ones to blame.  Drivers – particularly bus and truck drivers– as a community have been demonised by sections of the media. Of course it is true that a major portion of the traffic accidents and resultant fatalities are caused by irresponsible and inexperienced drivers. However to say only the drivers are responsible for such tragedies is simply untrue.

Who is at fault if a car hits a pedestrian who is jaywalking or running across the street as happens on Bangladesh roads quite often? Determining who is at fault at the scene of an accident is basically a matter of figuring out which person was careless, negligent or disobeyed a traffic law. A pedestrian (or a jaywalker) must not just assume that a car will see them when crossing the street and it is only the responsibility of the drivers to slow down and be watchful. Accidents caused by pedestrians crossing roads illegally should–it is only common sense– be the pedestrians' responsibility, and they should be convicted of endangering public safety. If pedestrians are not mentally challenged, they are of course aware about possible risks. If they knowingly break the law and cause casualties, there is no excuse for them to escape legal actions.  We need more zebra crossings, barricades in the middle of the street, and the pedestrians should use foot over bridges to strengthen the traffic control system.

Faced suddenly with pedestrians, vehicle drivers have little time to react. Many pedestrians run red lights or cross streets forbidden to them without hesitation, not even waiting for a few seconds. There is a clear absence of any traffic culture among pedestrians. It is also true that most roads in the country are not well prepared for pedestrians and cyclists. Pedestrian crossings without a signal could be an accident trap. Lined crossings do not compel motorists to stop nor do they give pedestrians the right to cross at any time, especially at night.

However even the pedestrians who know and are willing to obey the rules can’t always do so because of poor infrastructure. A recent exclusive report published in this newspaper stated “Pedestrians who use footbridges to cross roads in areas under the two city corporations in the capital run the risk of sustaining serious injuries. Elderly persons and children, in particular, are highly vulnerable.  Either necessary maintenance work has not been carried out or the pace of repairs of the over-bridges is very slow. Any pedestrian who uses those steps runs the risk of sustaining grievous injuries.” The Road Transport Act-2018 is rather soft on transport owners, as it holds drivers solely responsible for deaths and casualties in road crashes. It is well nigh impossible to ensure safe roads by letting the owners off the hook and by punishing the workers or drivers alone.

 There must be development of a culture that creates respect between drivers and pedestrians. Majority of road users including both motorists and pedestrians lack traffic sense, leading to frequent road accidents across the urban areas of the country. Some research evidence indicates that the human element (by both drivers and pedestrians) is responsible for 80 to 85 per cent of all traffic accidents. There is widespread lack of awareness about rules and regulation, so there is need of institutes for awareness about these rules. The authorities should go for creating awareness by offering different courses in all institutes and also distribute safety reading materials for the drivers and for the general public. There are a number of things that drivers do that can be extremely dangerous.  Some drivers are extremely impatient.  Some drivers tailgate deliberately and these are the ones that are the most dangerous.  

They sit behind you flashing their headlights in an effort to move you, but of course there is nowhere to go as you are in the process of overtaking and there is no room to pull in on the left. Poor lane discipline, not indicating and undertaking are just a few of the bad habits that frequently and are also very dangerous apart from being highly inconvenient to other road users.

It is relatively easy to get a driving license in Bangladesh using dubious means. Naturally there are many people who drive on the streets without having any right to do so. Bangladesh has one of the lowest conviction rates of errant drivers. This happens because of court delays and relatively light punishment for those held guilty. Also, as we rarely rely on forensic or scientific investigation to prove guilt, the offender often walks free.

Unfortunately many educated people, well aware of traffic rules and with proper licenses break traffic rules. Many of them are least bothered about traffic rules. They rarely, if ever give way to an ambulance or never respect the others rights. What then can we expect from those who are unaware of traffic rules, and those who have not passed a driving test before getting their licenses? What can we expect from intoxicated drivers? What can we expect from drivers who suffer from road rage?

The Situation in Developed Countries

A traffic offense in developed countries could mean your license being impounded for life. Insurance companies also act tough. Insurance premiums triple for those who have been involved in a serious traffic offense. The more accidents you are involved in, the more your premium increases. Rash drivers in the US can be charged with vehicular manslaughter and vehicular homicide. These carry severe punishment and it gets progressively more severe with each offense.

Solution

The World Bank has some suggestions regarding bringing down the number of road accidents: 1) Increase awareness about road safety among road users, planners and engineers. In fact, the World Bank sees public awareness campaigns as a vital part of its efforts to improve road safety.

2)    Introduction of Road safety audits.

3)     Speed controlling measures such as speed bumps, rumble strips, road markings, traffic signs, and roundabouts.

4)     Building of separate non-motorized traffic and motorcycle lanes to ensure the smooth flow of traffic.

Ensuring road safety is the collective responsibility of the society.

The writer is Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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