MOST roads in Bangladesh have evolved rather than designed and purpose-built; consequently hazards are mounting. It has been revealed through a study of the ARI (Accident Research Institute) at Buet that out of the colossal number of accidents taking place on the national highways in the country, 35 per cent of these takes place in four per cent area of the national highway. It was learnt that 209 most accident-prone spots were identified on our national highways by the ARI and the recommendations for fixing up the faults were made over to the communications ministry.
But other than 11 spots in the Dhaka –Aricha portion of the national highway, visibly no work was done in other spots. It has been possible to reduce accidents and consequent deaths by fixing up turnings along 55 km of the highway from Nabinagar to Paturia ferry terminal. But the most dangerous spots identified by ARI on the Dhaka- Ctg highway, where accidents take place more frequently, remained untouched. It was learnt that 90 per cent of the deaths caused by road crashes on the national highways in 2013 occurred in this portion of the road.
There has been no effort to install road dividers in the busiest and most vulnerable points on the highway beyond Dhaka city limits. Road accidents tend to happen also in certain locations like hat, bazaar and areas near bus stand. And all these deaths during the last one decade are being blamed on the government's indulgence of unscrupulous bus owners as well as driver's lack of skill, reckless driving and overriding disregard of road safety rules. The ARI research findings on drivers have revealed that in 48.7 per cent of the cases, drivers are to blame for the accidents. Most of these drivers, about 81 per cent, are just trained by their 'ustads' (senior driver of the vehicle) and the license they procure is always by giving bribe.
But these accidents, numerically shocking as they may be, fail to reflect the social tragedy due to the lives lost in road accidents. Apart from that the number of people getting crippled for life is staggering, and the loss to the exchequer is about Tk 4000 crore annually.
With road widening programmes and road safety measures like putting road dividers on our national highways are hard to come by, people travelling by bus or cars, or trucks laden with goods ranging from food grains to chemicals to explosives, meet disastrous accidents.
Ironically, with the high- ups in the administration constantly devising ways and means to avert accidents and ensure road safety, people are dying on the roads with no effective checks and control by the highway police. Despite the fact that the country lurched from one disaster to another, whether in the road sector or river routes, all these deaths and disasters could hardly wake up the past governments or even jolt the present administration to take bold and drastic action. People running the state must decide which comes first, wide and long roads or the trucks and cars that move on them. If we want real development of the country, we have to make meaningful investment in the road sector, because roads really build up national wealth.
Workshops and seminars held so frequently come out with safety policy guidelines that are hardly implemented on the road. In a country where the police administration at the lower rungs is singularly known for sloth and lax attitude, high-ups in the police administration must make sudden checks on the national highways, and must deal severely with the recalcitrant highway police and violators of road safety norms.
The problem isn't one of resources but of leadership, motivation and political will, and because these are appallingly missing the consequence is frequent disasters. It is impossible to accept the abominable and criminal negligence of throwing the innocent working class who form the most productive segment of the population under the wheels of speeding vehicle because they want to earn a living. Inevitably, they have to come out on the road for their livelihood, but with such tremendous risk every day of the year!
Unfortunately, as the scale of tragedies – man-made and natural—increased during the last few years, so did our apathy, both before and after the accident. All these accidents were mostly preventable. Yet, we never learnt our lessons.
One can now only hope that it is lesson enough that should shake the administration and the concerned agencies out of their stupor. Most importantly, unless the government enacts stricter laws relating to drivers' recklessness, there will be no improvement in the situation. Fully aware of the maximum punishment of three years' jail sentence that they will face if their lapses can be proved by eye witnesses in the court, most drivers have a tendency to flout road safety rules like speed limit, overtaking, and overloading.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.