At least 46 people were killed and more than 200 injured in 31 road accidents across the country in the last four days including the three-day Eid holiday --- The Daily Star, November 10th 2011.
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. According to World Bank statistics, annual fatality rate from road accidents is found to be 85.6 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles. Hence, the roads in Bangladesh have become deadly!
But these statistics, numerically shocking as they may be, fail to reflect the social tragedy related to each life lost to road accidents. One accident that remains afresh in my memory is the death of 44 school children last July, after the truck they were travelling in skid and fell into a pond. 44 young dreams and hopes lost due to reckless driving. Only a month after this tragedy, Bangladesh lost two brilliant citizens, filmmaker Tareq Masud and journalist Mishuk Munier, to yet another road accident in August. We, the people were shocked, angered and many led protests to the streets demanding immediate action to bring justice for those killed and to ensure road safety. But as from the lines quoted in the beginning from a daily newspaper, one can see that the most recent fatality figures express no progress!
A high growth in urbanization and motorization can be identified as one of the factors leading to the higher number of road accidents. Recent studies claim that the annual urban growth rate in Bangladesh stood at 4% in 2010, whereas the present growth in motor vehicles stands at 8%. Consequently, the road systems are experiencing greater congestion, physical deterioration and safety problems. According to a WB report, only 40% of the main roads (National Highways and the Zila Roads) are in good state.
The traffic police department has a crucial role to play in identifying and holding accountable reckless driving, speeding and unstable or overloaded vehicles. The maintenance, repair and expansion of roads coupled with setting up dividers on national highways, cautioning signals for hazardous locations, disseminating information on driving and road safety to masses through media and exemplary punishment for violating traffic laws are some of the main areas that need to be worked on rigorously by the government.
As citizens, we too have 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.
A proper estimation of the economic cost of lives taken by road accidents in Bangladesh would surely reflect the considerable loss of addition to GDP. According to WHO, the economic cost of road accidents to developing countries is 2-3% of GDP. The thought crosses my mind, of those 44 and many other children killed in road accidents over the years, how many doctors, engineers, scientists, inventors and other future potential has the nation lost?
For a developing country like Bangladesh, allowing its citizen to perish to road accidents is not only tragic but unacceptable!