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10 August, 2015 00:00 00 AM
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Of course there is no doubt that the greater number of road accidents and resultant fatalities are caused by irresponsible and inexperienced drivers. However to say only the drivers are responsible for such tragedies is an over simplification

Traffic accidents : Are the drivers solely to blame?

SYED MEHDI MOMIN
Traffic accidents : Are the drivers 
solely to blame?
Dangerous crossing of a road ignoring the foot overbridge in the background

During the recent Eid season 250 people were killed and numerous others injured in road accidents throughout the country, many of the latter critically so. Like the previous years, hundreds of unfit and unregistered vehicles plied the highways across the country during the Eid season. A large number of such vehicles -- buses, minibuses and microbuses -- usually ply the roads in districts as local transport.
But on occasions like the Eid when the demand goes astronomically high, these suddenly become inter-district ones. Most of these vehicles are responsible for tailbacks on roads and highways. Also many three-wheelers plied the highways. They caused accidents or break downs on roads due to their bad condition, causing traffic congestion, and accidents.
Not only during the holiday seasons traffic accidents occur throughout the year and actually 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 in Bangladesh. According to World Bank statistics, annual fatality rate from road accidents is found to be 85.6 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles. Traffic accidents are a significant cause of any disability, death and economic ruin for families in Bangladesh.
Every day people are getting killed and maimed on our roads. It is a given that a number of people who go out of home for different reasons do so with the knowledge that some will never return because of traffic accidents. Over the years traffic accidents have become a serious public issue, disproportionately affecting vulnerable groups of road users. Road traffic injuries are a major but generally neglected health problem and require concerted efforts for effective and sustainable avoidance. Bangladesh unfortunately has one of the highest accident fatality rates in the world. It is significantly higher than most Western and even neighbouring countries.
This poor record of fatal traffic accidents is the result of bad roads, badly maintained vehicles and also reckless driving that remains unchecked by authorities. Road safety experts also warn that the real numbers of fatalities could be much higher since many cases are not even reported. There is no estimate as to how many people injured in road accidents die a few hours or days after the accident. And their deaths are then no longer linked to road traffic accidents.
Be that as it may, the majority of the people including media pundits tend to hold the drivers responsible for all sorts of traffic accidents. Drivers – particularly bus and truck drivers– as a community have been demonised by sections of the media. Of course there is no doubt that the greater number of road accidents and resultant fatalities are caused by irresponsible and inexperienced drivers. However to say ‘only’ the drivers are responsible for such tragedies is an over simplification.
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.
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 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.” There must be
development of a culture that creates respect between drivers and pedestrians.
A major reason for accidents is the absence of safety features in many vehicles. Although accidents with safety-equipped vehicles take far fewer lives, the authorities here do not insist upon requiring things like backseat head rests (to prevent neck or back injuries), air bags, or anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic stability programs (ESP) to control skids, which are standard and in some cases mandatory features in the United States and parts of Europe. In addition to the lack of safety features, many vehicles are potentially hazardous due to worn tires, brakes, and shock absorbers.
It is sad but true that in cases of road accident, people generally are reluctant to come forward and help the victim. This negligence results in victim’s death which can be otherwise avoided by timely intervention. Our insensitivity towards such incidences is a major cause of problems.
The nightmarish state of roads is a major factor but little is being done in that regard. According to many truck bus drivers, they do apply brakes in time but their vehicles don’t stop as expected due to the condition of the road. Perhaps the only thing worse than the poor conditions of the roads is the fact that the repair work undertaken for the same moves at snails pace and causes inconvenience to everyone. Obviously accidents also result. Often the road repair work isn’t optimally scheduled causing unending jams and inconvenience to commuters and road users. Ideally repair work should be scheduled at non peak hours or during the time of the day when the vehicular flow is at a minimum. When limited amount of work is involved, road repair should be taken up at night time to ensure smooth completion and least inconvenience to the citizens and road users. If a substantial amount of work is to be done, it should be done round the clock at a stretch rather than distributing the same over longer intervals.
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 educational institutes and also distribute safety reading materials for the drivers and for the general public. 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 rights of others. Entire families ride a single motorcycle, the children pressed between their father, who straddles the gas tank, and their mother, perched side saddle on the back rack often with another babe in arms. Helmets are mandatory as are seatbelts for car passengers, but these regulations, like speed limits, are rarely enforced.
If this is the case with educated people 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?
A traffic offence 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 offence. 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 offence.
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.

The writer is Assistant Editor of The Independent and can be contacted at: syed.mehdi@theindependentbd.com

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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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