The World Bank (WB) report on the state of road safety in Bangladesh only reinforces what the media has been continually projecting for a long time. It projects a rather frightening picture of the severe impairment it is causing to the public wellbeing. What is frustrating is that not only has the downslide not been arrested, the situation has gone from bad to worse, particularly in the last several years despite measures taken by the administration to stem the downward trend of road safety. And there is no indication of that being reversed. On the contrary, with the number of vehicles on the roads increasing every day, the outlook is alarming.
Our road safety record stands in stark contrast to the progress that the country has made in the economic front. Some statistics are in order to expose the dangerous situation we are facing in this regard. Even by the most conservative record—that of the police, the rise has been horrendous—4,138 people were killed in 4,147 crashes. The civil society groups including Nirapad Sarak Chai has a much higher estimate of fatalities.
Over the last three decades, the per capita road crash fatality in Bangladesh has been three times that of the rest of South Asia. And in the category of highest-risk group, i.e. males between 15 and 49 years, the rate of increase was 15 times higher. And from being ninth in the leading causes of death of children between five and 14 in 1990, it has jumped to fourth position now.
We hope that the administration will not dismiss the report out of hand or start splitting hairs on the number of casualties. The reality is that roads are becoming more dangerous by the day. More people die in urban areas, with Dhaka hogging the number of fatalities. There must be something wrong with the system. The administration would do well to heed the WB report which suggests some workable and relevant investment priorities. That would not only require monetary investment, but also enhancing institutional capacity and strict enforcing of the rules regarding licensing and permits. Without these, the trend will be difficult to reverse.