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.
The report, titled "Delivering Road Safety in Bangladesh", was released on Friday in conjunction with the Third Global Ministerial Conference On Road Safety in Stockholm.
The report points to the high death rate on Bangladesh's roads caused by chronic lack of investment in systemic, targeted, and sustained road safety programmes and identifies relevant investment priorities to reverse the trend.
"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.
"The detrimental development impacts of poor road safety performance must be addressed. Road safety performance in Bangladesh is not just poor, it is deteriorating," it added.
The WB report came at a time when local road safety organisations are continuously expressing concerns over the rise of road accidents and resulting fatalities -- with the country witnessing two major student movements for road safety in less than two years.
Even police reports, which have much lower numbers than that of non-government organisations, show a sharp rise in road accidents.
According to police data, 4,138 people were killed in 4,147 road accidents last year. The previous year, 2,609 road crashes claimed 2,635 lives. The data was prepared based on cases filed with different police stations across the country.
Nirapad Sarak Chai, a pioneer in road safety campaign in Bangladesh, said crashes and deaths increased by 51.53 percent last year and by 17.75 percent over 2018.
At least 5,227 people were killed in 4,702 crashes last year while 3,103 crashes claimed 4,439 lives in 2018, according to its report released on January 4.
Lack of proper monitoring and the authorities' indifference in the months after widespread protests for safe roads are the main reasons behind the sharp rise in crashes, the organisation said.
Different government agencies, including the police, took several steps such as raising awareness in the immediate aftermath of the road safety protests following the deaths of two students in July 2018.
The report said the estimates of annual deaths in road accidents in Bangladesh range from 2,538 to nearly 10 times that—between 20,736 and 21,316.
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 inexorably continue unless scaled-up and well-targeted actions are taken, it stressed.
The WB report also said that children in Bangladesh face growing road safety risks.
In 1990, road crashes were the ninth leading cause of death among children aged five to 14. By 2017, they had become the fourth leading cause of death, it said.
"This undermines Bangladesh's efforts to improve health and education outcomes for children, which are important determinants of human capital development," it added.
However, the annual report of Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum gives a more alarming picture. According to its 2019 report, road accidents are the biggest killer among causes of unnatural deaths of children.
At least 555 children were killed and 85 injured in road crashes in the last year while 507 died by drowning, according to the Forum, a platform of 269 non-government organisations working for child rights.
The World Bank report said a nationwide cross-sectional survey of households in Bangladesh found that injuries resulting from road crashes are the second leading cause of permanent disability in the country. Every day an estimated 220 people are permanently disabled and severely burdened by road crashes, it noted.
Over the past decade, urban crash fatalities have increased in Bangladesh and comprise nearly 40 percent of total fatalities, it said.
Almost half of urban crash fatalities occurred in the Dhaka metropolitan area, with other metropolitan cities accounting for another 30 percent, it stated.
Newspaper report data compiled between 2016–18 for the Dhaka metropolitan area indicate that buses were involved in around 50 percent of the crashes that resulted in fatalities, it added.
The World Bank said poor road safety performance in Bangladesh is a symptom of underinvestment in targeted initiatives.
"Bangladesh will require an estimated additional investment of US$7.8 billion over the coming decade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3.6 target of a 50 percent reduction in national road crash fatalities.
"Success will also depend upon a long-term commitment and sustained vision from the GoB," it said.
Programme initiatives will need to be properly sequenced as institutional capacity must first be strengthened to ensure 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.