POST TIME: 5 November, 2019 00:00 00 AM
Ensuring road safety
Declining trends in road fatalities in developed countries have been attributed to concerted efforts by various sectors
Rayhan Ahmed Topader

Ensuring road safety

There has been an alarming rise in road accidents, significantly highway accidents, in Bangladesh over the past few years. According to a study conducted by the Accident Research Centre (ARC) of BUET, road accidents claim on average 12,000 lives annually and lead to about 35,000 injuries. According to World Bank statistics, annual fatality rate from road accidents is found to be 85.6 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles. Hence, the roads in Bangladesh have become deadly!

Road traffic accidents have now become a great social concern in Bangladesh and the situation is deteriorating. The annual economic wastage occasioned by traffic accidents is estimated to be in the order of 2 to 3 percent of the GDP. Each year, there are at least 3,000 fatalities and 3,000 grievous and simple injuries from around 3,500 police reported accidents on Bangladesh roads. Other sources estimated the fatalities as high as from 12,000 to 20,000 per year. Thus, the safety problem is very severe by international standards with some 60 to 150 fatalities per 10,000 motor vehicles in Bangladesh compared to around 25,16, 2 and 1.4 in India, Sri Lanka, the US and UK respectively. Worldwide, the number of people killed in road traffic crashes is estimated to be 1.3 million, with another 50 million injured each year. More than 85 percent of these casualties and 96 percent of total child deaths, occur in low and middle income countries. Road traffic deaths are predicted to increase by 83 percent in low-income and middle-income countries (if no major action is taken) and to decrease by 27 percent in high-income countries over the next 20 years.

Sustained declining trends in road fatalities in developed countries have been attributed to concerted efforts in many areas, including effective coordination, community involvement, research on road safety initiatives, the promotion of good road safety practices and improved targeting of resources.

In Bangladesh pedestrian-vehicle conflicts are clearly the greatest problem with significant involvement of trucks and buses. There is a severe lack of priority and even attention given to vulnerable road user movements, despite this group of road users dominating travel patterns as well as casualty types. Vulnerable road users are much more susceptible to accidents when vehicle speeds are high and can even suffer fatal injuries in accidents with motor vehicles at moderate speeds.Typically, the principal contributory factors of accidents are as follows: Mix of traffic with a variety of vehicle characteristics and speeds. Failure to obey mandatory traffic regulations, illegal and inconsiderate driving practices. Pedestrian-vehicle conflicts. Failure to provide and maintain road signs and markings. Failure to enforce traffic law. Lack of education of road users. Poor detailed design of junctions and road sections. Failure to provide way. Lack of lane discipline. Counter-clockwise travel at roundabouts. Non-wearing of motorcycle helmets. Failure to slow down when approaching an intersection. It is possible to significantly reduce the number of road accidents and casualties by implementing an effective and coordinated safety policy and actions which require significant improvements in the relevant sectors.  Also need to better enforcement, better roads, enhanced vehicle safety standards, improved and extensive public education and safety related programs. There is a need for identification of accident prevention priorities setting realistic problem specific goals and targets. The problem-specific targets (e.g. reduction of pedestrian deaths from pedestrian walking with traffic) are far more important than macro targets (e.g. fatalities per 10,000 registered motor vehicles).There is specific need and much scope for road environment improvements aimed at correcting the most common deficiencies through wider application of traffic engineering approaches. It is argued that priorities be placed on the principles like traffic segregation to provide facilities and road space for the most vulnerable users particularly pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles, and to force correct road user behavior (self enforcing measures) via channelization, speed reduction measures, etc. To promote enhanced road safety, there should be programs to implement well-known engineering measures, leading to larger and longer lasting effects at less expense, widely and systematically. Measures that would achieve greater road safety (likely to also improve traffic flow) and would also offer cost-effective results are-Improvement of shoulder, removal of visual obstruction, access control, road side hazard and parking management (bazaar, vendors, illegal parking), improving bus-bay, passenger shelter and street lighting, road surface improvement.

And traffic sign, signal and marking improvement, drainage improvement, curve improvement, intersection improvement, pedestrian facilities improvement (walking along the road side and crossing), speed management, long Term Policy and Capital Intensive Measures, planning and guidelines, land use control, exposure control through transport and land-use policies, functional hierarchy of the road system, safety audit, assessment and highway surveillance.etc..

Learners driving license is one of the prerequisites to get the actual driving license in Bangladesh. This is issued by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). After getting a learners driving license, you will get 2-3 months for your driving training, and after that you must attend a written and practical test to get the original driving license. You must be at least 18 years old to get a non-professional driving license and 20 years old to get a professional driving license. Driving without license has been blamed as one of the prime reasons for the deadly road accidents in the years. The number of trained drivers is too inadequate against the actual demand due to lack of proper training facilities. Shortage of driving schools and instructors have created crisis of skilled drivers, and reckless driving by them is causing frequent accidents on roads. Only 135 driving schools have been registered with the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and there are 183 driving instructors across the country. Six out of 183 instructors got licence in 2019.

The driving schools trained 17,818 people in 2016-2018 and of them,11,862 were trained to get professional licence and 5,956 were trained for non-professional driving licences. But the activities of the existing driving schools were hardly monitored. As of June 2019, 22 lakh drivers with valid licence drive 40.57 lakh registered motor vehicles across the country. In such situation, the transport authority took an initiative to monitor the driving schools and in March this year, it asked the schools to provide information on number of people they had trained in past five years. Motor Vehicles Regulations 1984 made it mandatory for an individual to have educational qualification of secondary level having licence to drive heavy vehicles, having three years' experience of driving heavy vehicles, being at least 27-year old, and having good character to get licence to drive heavy vehicle. There were around 2.60 lakh heavy vehicles in Bangladesh while only 1.6 lakh people had licence to drive those.

Shortage of driving training schools and instructors obviously is a threat to road safety. Most of the drivers on the road had no institutional training and got driving licences through underhand dealings with the help of some dishonest BRTA officilas. Properly trained instructors are highly needed to train drivers while there are faults in the system. The BRTA should monitor driving schools strictly and make facilities for creating more instructors. The transport owners should check drivers before appointing them.

Road safety can only be tackled effectively if the state takes a leading role and responsibility with due commitment by concerned agencies in the relevant sectors with close collaboration and understanding. Indeed, strengthening the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) under the direct control of the Head of the Government with necessary focus on its member organisations and sub-committees for the evaluation and the monitoring of the working agencies is needed.

As citizens, we too have a role to play in ensuring road safety. While travelling in public transports, passengers should protest and stop speeding and reckless driving by bus and taxi drivers. Owners of motor vehicles should ensure that employed drivers have genuine licenses, are properly trained and drive responsibly. Road safety education to pedestrians, especially children, within the communities by community leaders is also a good way to promote road safety.

A proper estimation of the economic cost of lives taken by road accidents in Bangladesh would surely reflect the considerable loss of addition to GDP. According to WHO, the economic cost of road accidents to developing countries is 2-3% of GDP. The thought crosses my mind, of those 44 and many other children killed in road accidents over the years, how many doctors, engineers, scientists, inventors and other future potential has the nation lost? For a developing country like Bangladesh, allowing its citizen to perish to road accidents is not only tragic but unacceptable.

The writer is a contributor to

The Independent