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7 August, 2018 10:33:42 AM
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Road accident fatalities and our fate

Accidents on the highways have become a regular menace in the country of late. Hardly a day passes without a road accident
Mohammed Abul Kalam, PhD
Road accident fatalities and our fate

The government is likely to approve the draft law of the Road Transport Act on Monday, keeping the provision of maximum punishment for five years for reckless driving, which contradicts an earlier High Court (HC) verdict that reinstated the highest punishment for rash driving to seven years imprisonment. In a verdict, the High Court on March 8 in 2015 reinstated the highest punishment for reckless driving to seven years in prison from the prevailing three-year jail term. In its observation, the HC had also recommended that the punishment for reckless driving should be increased further to ensure the right to life for the people. The government took the initiative to approve the draft law of the Road Transport Act amidst ongoing student protests in the capital and across the country demanding safe roads and justice for the deaths of two students in a road accident on Airport Road on July 29. Following the student protests, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader on Thursday said that if the draft of the Road Transport Act is enacted into law then it will be possible to ensure the highest punishment for those responsible for road accidents — and restore discipline on the roads (The Independent, August 4, 2018).
Accidents on the highways have become a regular menace in the country of late. Hardly a day passes without a road accident. Passengers and their near and dear ones bear the brunt of such accidents. Sharp rise in the number of road accidents in recent days speaks volumes about the blatant disregard of transport owners, drivers and of the administration for the safety and security of the passengers or of others who have to use the roads. Our heads reel to think that 52 people were killed and about 150 injured in a day alone, on June 23 (The Independent, June 26, 2018).

The plying of vehicles without fitness, nonstop driving, reckless driving, unskilled drivers, plying of slow-speed three-wheelers on highways, poor road conditions and speeding tendency of bus drivers to get more trips are the main reasons behind the accidents, we observe.

Over 3 400 people die on the world's roads every day and tens of millions of people are injured or disabled every year. Children, pedestrians, cyclists and older people are among the most vulnerable of road users. Each year, 1.25 million people die as a result of road traffic crashes and as many as 50 million people are injured. They are the leading cause of death among people aged 15-29 years. Nearly half (49%) of the people who die on the world’s roads are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In addition to the grief and suffering they cause, road traffic crashes constitute an important public health and development problem with significant health and socioeconomic costs. Much is known about preventing road traffic deaths and injuries. Reported road traffic fatalities (2012) 2538(57% Male, 17% Female); WHO estimated road traffic fatalities 21 316 (95% CI 17 349–25 283) WHO estimated rate per 100 000 population 13.6 Estimated GDP lost due to road traffic crashes 1.6%.

Road traffic injuries are a major but neglected public health challenge that requires concerted efforts for effective and sustainable prevention. Of all the systems with which people have to deal every day, road traffic systems are the most complex and the most dangerous. Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes each year and as many as 50 million are injured. Projections indicate that these figures will increase by about 65% over the next 20 years unless there is new commitment to prevention. Nevertheless, the tragedy behind these figures attracts less mass media attention than other, less frequent types of tragedy.

Every day the media bring us news of tragic events, behind each of which are a grieving family and friends, whose lives are forever changed. Every day thousands of people are killed and injured on our roads. Men, women or children walking, biking or riding to school or work, playing in the streets or setting out on long trips, will never return home, leaving behind shattered families and communities. Millions of people each year will spend long weeks in hospital after severe crashes and many will never be able to live, work or play as they used to do.

Road traffic injuries are a growing public health issue, disproportionately affecting vulnerable groups of road users, including the poor. More than half the people killed in traffic crashes are young adults aged between 15 and 44 years – often the breadwinners in a family. Furthermore, road traffic injuries cost low-income and middle-income countries between 1% and 2% of their gross national product – more than the total development aid received by these countries.

But road traffic crashes and injuries are preventable. In high-income countries, an established set of interventions have contributed to significant reductions in the incidence and impact of road traffic injuries. These include the enforcement of legislation to control speed and alcohol consumption, mandating the use of seatbelts and crash helmets, and the safer design and use of roads and vehicles. Reduction in road traffic injuries can contribute to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals that aim to halve extreme poverty and significantly reduce child mortality.

Road traffic injury prevention must be incorporated into a broad range of activities, such as the development and management of road infrastructure, the provision of safer vehicles, law enforcement, mobility planning, the provision of health and hospital services, child welfare services, and urban and environmental planning. Our roads, which are meant to take us places, often become venues of loss and sources of sorrow. There are not many roads; there is a single road that extends across the length and breadth of our vast planet. The human suffering for victims and their families of road traffic-related injuries is incalculable.

There are endless repercussions: families break up; high counseling costs for the bereaved relatives; no income for a family if a breadwinner is lost; and thousands of takas to care for injured and paralyzed people. We have to decide to tackle the root causes of road accidents, a global scourge characteristic of our technological era, whose list of victims insidiously grows longer day by day. How many people die or are injured? How many families have found themselves mourning, surrounded by indifference that is all too common, as if this state of affairs were an unavoidable tribute society has to pay for the right to travel?

Comprehensive road safety legislation—which incorporates evidence-based measures and strict and appropriate penalties, backed by consistent, sustained enforcement and public education—has been proven to reduce road traffic injuries and fatalities.

To strengthen road safety legislation, a practice resource manual for the country may be prepared for practitioners and decision-makers to use for enacting new laws or amending existing ones as part of a comprehensive road safety strategy. In particular, we recommend a stepwise approach to assessing and improving legislation relating to specific risk factors for road-traffic injuries, as well as post-crash care. These are: (1) develop an understanding of the framework of legislation and relevant processes that are applicable in a country; (2) review current national legislation and regulations and identify barriers to the implementation and enforcement of effective road safety measures; (3) identify available resources, such as international agreements, and evidence-based guidance and recommendations on effective measures, to improve legislation; and (4)  prepare action plans to strengthen national legislation and regulations for the main risk factors and for post-crash care, including advocating for improvement.

Road traffic crashes are predictable and therefore preventable. In order to combat the problem, though, there needs to be close coordination and collaboration, using a holistic and integrated approach, across many sectors and many disciplines. While there are many interventions that can save lives and limbs, political will and commitment are essential and without them little can be achieved. The time to act is now. Road users everywhere deserve better and safer road travel.

 

The writer is

Former Head, Department of Medical Sociology,

Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control & Research (IEDCR)

Dhaka, Bangladesh

E-mail: med_sociology_iedcr@yahoo.com

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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.

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