Tragic deaths and injuries caused by road crashes are recognised worldwide as public health and development concerns. The World Health Organisation (WHO), in its informative Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018, pointed out that about1.35 million people perish in road crashes every year and over 90 per cent of all deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Today, fatal road accidents stand as the 8th leading cause of death for people of all ages.
Number of road traffic fatalities continues to increase in the less developed nations at staggering social and economic costs.
WHO emphasises, in another report (2013), that comprehensive road safety legislation incorporating evidence-based actions and harsher penalties, supported by consistent and relentless enforcement along with public education, has been proven to reduce road injuries and lowers death toll.
Disappointingly, despite the Bangladesh government's earlier initiatives and numerous committee recommendations to develop road safety mechanisms, observance of 'traffic week' and enactment of the Road Transport Act 2018 replacing the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983, road mishaps continue to climb. These have been costing the country an estimated 2 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
Notably, infuriated by tragic deaths of two students from road accidents in Dhaka, a series of unprecedented demonstrations for improved road safety conditions took place across the country from July 29 to August 8 last year.
Although in many developed and developing countries, the state of road safety has been improving, Bangladesh has seen worsening conditions.
As many as 25,526 persons were killed in road accidents over the past decade since 2009, and 19,763 others were seriously injured, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, told parliament on June 12, 2019.
Thus, Bangladesh has one of the highest road accident deaths in the world.till September 2019, a total of 3,060 people were killed and 3,292 seriously wounded or disabled in road traffic collisions, according to most recent government figures. Such deaths rose this year by approximately 16 per cent.
A key reason for rise in road fatalities is a quick lapse in judgment or attention. Some already defined reasons of road accidents are higher speed and reckless driving, poor safety standards, lack of awareness among pedestrians and small vehicle motorists, tendency to overload and overtake and lack of enforcement of the regulations.
Professional drivers ought to have comprehensive training and tests before approved for licenses. To combat road crashes, run-down vehicles must not be allowed to ply. The bus services should be properly regulated. The government should set up more driving schools to produce skilled divers.
Fastening of seat belts needs to be made mandatory as road safety experts believe such practice can lessen chances of death in a collision by 47 per cent and chances of serious injuries by 52 per cent. Penalties for non-use of seat belts may encourage drivers and passengers to use it.
Experts insist that road fatalities can be prevented through shared responsibility of all citizens. Responding to the situation, the government, on November 25, formed a powerful task force to look into challenges of road safety and restore discipline on roads and highways and the transport sector.
The task force, led by the Home Minister, consists of four sub-committees with representation from the ministries concerned, the police, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and transport owners' and workers' associations. These committees are to provide recommendations and action plans on road safety within two months.
Finally, proper enforcement of traffic laws, better maintenance of roads and vehicle safety standards, and strong public awareness campaigns are essential to lessen the ongoing carnage on the roads. Importantly, coordinated efforts, commitment to driving conscientiously and cautiously and adherence to road safety regulations are essential for reducing road accidents to protect lives across the country.
Dr Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman of Department of Political Science at University of Dhaka.