Monday, January 16, 2006














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The serpentine death traps
Shamsul Huq Zahid

          ROAD accidents continue to take heavy toll of deaths and injuries across the country with no preventive measure in sight.
At least 70 people were killed and 400 others injured in a number of road accidents during the Eid-ul-Azha vacation.
Dense fog was found to be principal cause of these road accidents. Yet rash driving was no less responsible for the mishaps to take place on the highways where there was virtually none to control the heavy rush of home-bound traffic on the eve of the Eid holidays.
According to statistics available with the police, in the year 2005 alone, 3122 persons were killed and 15742 others injured in road accidents across the country. A total of 17084 persons were killed in road accidents between 1998 and 2003. According to police records, on an average 3000 people are killed in road accidents every year.
The actual number of deaths would be much higher since all road accidents are not recorded with the police.
Deaths due to accidents on roads, rivers and air do not stir the minds of the people anymore since these are happening very frequently. The authorities concerned too have become insensitive to such tragic deaths, for they do not have to answer to anyone for their failure to put in place the required preventive measures against possible accidents.
But the cost of accidents on roads or otherwise is quite heavy. The accidents, in many cases, do take away the only earning members of the scores of families. The families are put into psychological traumas and financial hardships.
The main causes that have been contributing to the rise in road accidents include reckless driving, overloading, poor road conditions, indifference on the part of road users, poor knowledge about driving and road safety, movement of slow as well as fast moving vehicles on the same lane etc.
These factors are known to all yet nothing has been done to bring about any change in the situation.
Reckless driving is considered to be the main reason behind frequent road accidents. The helper of a bus or truck without having necessary driving skill is allowed to drive the vehicle, putting the safety of passengers and goods at risk. One does not need to have a driving licence to drive a bus or a truck in Bangladesh. Moreover, getting a driving licence from the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) is also not a big deal. Even without being at the steering of a motor vehicle once in one's life-time beforehand, one can get a genuine licence. He will have to spend just a few extra bucks.
What is more important is that no driver gets punishment for being guilty of killing pedestrians or passengers on the roads and highways. They do have the licence to kill people. One can remember well the violent reaction of the transport workers when the government in the mid-eighties went for enacting laws providing tough punishment for the killer drivers. In the face of agitation by the transport workers the authorities had to abandon the plan to enact the law. Every year a good number of drivers are arrested by the police for their direct involvement in road accidents. But they easily get away with their crimes because of the legal lacuna. It is high time that the government enact tough laws against driving without valid licences and for rash driving.
There are highway police to combat crime and reckless driving by motor vehicles. Only a few months back, a good number of brand new cars were handed over to the police authorities to patrol highways. But the situation, instead of showing any sign of improvement, has rather deteriorated. Besides, highway patrol cars are hardly seen doing their designated jobs.
The number of buses and trucks has increased manifold over the last few years. Earlier, passenger buses used to ply between Dhaka and other district headquarters. That situation has changed radically. Buses are now plying between Dhaka and many important Upazila headquarters and business centres. The two main highways connecting Dhaka with Chittagong and with Aricha have to bear the load of motor vehicles beyond their capacity. Moreover, at many places these highways are narrow and hazardous, particularly at the point of approach to small bridges. The number of road accidents on the highways having concrete dividers is found to be far less than the roads and highways without the same. The Roads and Highways Department (RHD) should take up programmes for the expansion of the important roads and highways and construction of dividers.
The life in Bangladesh seems to be very cheap the way the people are falling victims to frequent road accidents. Except for a transient sympathy for victims, nothing is being done to stop recurrence of such accidents. Even there is no special ambulance service for the road accident victims. Many persons injured in road accidents die due to their delayed arrival at the nearby hospitals or Thana health complexes.
The ministries of communications, health and home affairs should immediately hold a joint meeting to devise strategies for reducing the number of road accidents and meeting emergencies in the event of major road accidents. The valuable lives should not be allowed to perish this way.


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