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Road safety still remains a distant dream

Shahiduzzaman Khan | October 18, 2020 00:00:00

In order to continue its robust growth, Bangladesh must take urgent steps to improve road safety, said World Bank Vice President Hartwig Schafer at a recent meeting in the city.

Two to five per cent of GDP is lost because of road safety issues, and it is preventable, he said and added that such trend can be reversed and properlyaddressed.

The country has been growing rapidly over the last decade but that comes with increasing number of vehicles, more accidents and more fatalities, he added.

Bangladesh will be one of the first countries to benefit from the newly formed United Nations trust fund for road safety, according to the World Bank official. The World Bank and the United Nations together stand ready to support Bangladesh in improving road safety, he added.

Road crashes are, to mention, the fourth leading cause of death of children aged between 5 and 14, and 67 per cent victims are within the 15-49 age group in Bangladesh. Ironically, the country is not yet a contracting party to any of the road safety conventions.

The road and transport sector minister rejected a recent study finding of the Bangladesh JatriKalyanSamity (BJKS) on the number of last year's road accidents in the country, as it was 'contradictory' to national and international figures. According to police data, the number of road accidents in the country has reduced during the last few years.

A WHO report said Bangladesh was among the 68 countries where road crashes had a rising trend but the government had not recognised the fact and seemed reluctant to take necessary steps to improve road safety. The report said the economic cost of road accidents to developing countries is 2.0-3.0 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

A proper estimation of the economic cost of the lives lost tothe road accidents need to be made. If those lives could be saved,they would surely make positive contribution to the nation'sGDP.

In another development, the country's High Court ordered the government recently to immediately remove all unauthorised structures within 10 metres of highways, restore visibility of motorists at blind curves, and install speed-limit signs to prevent road accidents.

The court also ordered the government to implement all the 28 guidelines prepared by a seven-member expert committee formed under a court order to reduce road accidents and traffic jams. As per the guidelines, no bazaar could be set up or commercial structures be built on or beside highways.

What is true about the journey by roads in the country is that the paramount importance of safety issue was never taken into consideration since liberation of the country. After 50 years of independence, Bangladesh could build only 50,000 kilometres (kms) of roads, mostly unfriendly for pedestrians, slow-moving vehicles. One wonders how many more decades will be required by the government to build sufficient number of roads.

Experts, however, blame lack of enforcement of the concerned rules by the authorities and the government's inability to implement the recommendations for ensuring safe highways for the situation. Members of the law-enforcement agencies prefer to remain on the safe side.

Sometime, they get hold of the errant drivers, but in most cases, they let them go scot-free allegedly on payment of bribes. What is worse, while road traffic fatalities do cause commotion, they hardly lead to any comprehensive or sustained actions by the authorities.

It is proper to mention here that while everyone seems to know the cause and culprits behind the road traffic fatalities, there have hardly been any effort from the authorities to devise a comprehensive strategy to make the roads and highways reasonably safe, and bring the number of accidents and fatalities down. So the fatalities on the roads are on the increase day by day.

What is more alarming is that there is a lack of accountability everywhere. The drivers seem to believe they can get away with road traffic fatalities. On the other hand, the law enforcers do not always show the desired urgency to enforce the rules and regulations.

As citizens, everybody has 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.

Between 1990 and 2017, the increase in the road crash fatality rate per capita was three times higher in Bangladesh than that across South Asia, according to a World Bank report.

For the highest-risk group-males between the ages of 15 and 49 years-the rate of increase in Bangladesh was 15 times higher than that across the region, it said.

Bangladesh has experienced sustained economic growth and made progress on reducing poverty and boosting prosperity. However, these positive trends are being undermined by high fatality and injury rates on the roads of this populous South Asian nation, the report stated.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data, annual road crash deaths per capita in Bangladesh are twice the average rate for high-income countries and five times that of the best performing countries in the world.

In South Asia, the per capita fatality rate in Bangladesh has increased more rapidly over the past three decades than the regional average, it said.

Given the rapid growth in vehicle ownership, this trend can be expected to continue unabated unless scaled-up and well-targeted actions are taken, it stressed.

The World Bank said poor road safety performance in Bangladesh is a symptom of underinvestment in targeted initiatives. Programme initiatives will need to be properly sequenced as institutional capacity must first be strengthened to ensure that agencies can effectively deliver safety services, it said.

Robust vehicle and driver licensing systems will need to be well established and accessible by law enforcement agencies and regulatory authorities before the full power of road user safety compliance regimes can be exercised, it added.

On a number of occasions, the transport minister did promise to stop reckless driving that, according to various studies, is responsible for most of road accidents so far by providing training to drivers.

On the one hand, he committed that only those having genuine licences would be allowed to drive. Little development took place so far in this regard. Even a minister's directive remained uncared for!

Road safety for all is a call to action for all -- government, private sector, civil society, youth and development partners. Everybody needs to rollup their sleeves and make this happen for Bangladesh. .

All said and done, an effective and comprehensive system of accountability needs to be put in place whereby not only the reckless drivers will be made to face the music for their actions but also the law-enforcers will be called to account for their inaction.


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