The high incidence of road accidents in Bangladesh is a serious problem. Nevertheless, a group of people has been trying to play down the issue. The group is not small as it includes policymakers, the authorities concerned and public transport owners and workers' association leaders. It claims that the statistics on road crashes and deaths, presented by various road safety rights organisations, are fabricated. At a workshop in Dhaka last week, speakers felt that these 'fabricated' statistics on death from road crashes are 'tarnishing the country's image'. They further contended that the death toll due to road accidents had declined significantly last year.
One needs to analyse the claims carefully to understand the deeper connotations. Rejecting road accident-related death figures, regularly released by organisations working on road safety, is not new. Over the years, the government bodies and transport unions have rejected the reports alleging those 'overestimated.' As an increased death toll indicates weaknesses of the road safety measures, it is embarrassing for the concerned authorities. To the transport association leaders, it reflects reckless and lousy driving of unfit public transport. None of them wants to accept the tragic reality and take responsibility for the road accidents.
Rights organisations working on road safety usually compile road accident data from newspapers and other media reports. However, these organisations do not have access to government or transport association databases.
Government use the police report as the primary source of accident data. Though any death from a road accident should be recorded by the police, this is not always the case. It is a fact that some deaths are not properly reported to the police and so do not get included in the official record. Moreover, some deaths occur a few days or months after the accidents. The seriously injured persons admitted to the hospitals suffer a lot before death. Some of these deaths go missing from the record. So, there is every chance of under-reporting of road crash-related deaths. Instead of focusing on the flaws in official reporting, lambasting the civil rights organisation will not help address the severe road accident problem.
The claim of 'tarnishing the country's image' is nothing but a cover-up of the bad governance and inefficient management in the areas concerned. It is also used to undermine any valid criticism. The issue here is not tarnishing or glorifying the image of the country, it concerns human life. The greater the number of deaths on roads is, the greater the tragedy and losses to families and nations.
In the meeting, organised by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), some also threatened the rights organisations for preparing and publishing road crash-related data with grave consequences. They also said that the organisations have no right or permission to do so. A few even termed the right activists' works as 'tantamount to treason.' These people could not show their unacceptable attitude more by the threat and intolerance as expressed. They also make it clear that addressing the problem of road accidents is not their objective. Then what their objective is? Under-reporting the number of road crashes and fatalities from those! This is no way of looking at as serious an issue as road accidents.