Despite measures taken by the government following an unprecedented student movement for road safety, the numbers of road crashes and fatalities had increased last year compared to those of the previous year.
According to police, 2,635 people were killed in 2,609 road crashes last year. At least 2,513 people had died in 2,562 accidents in 2017.
The figures are significantly lower than that of two road-safety organisations but even with these figures, it would be impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to halve the number of deaths on roads by next year, experts and road safety campaigners said.
They said apart from proper enforcement of laws, more measures were required to achieve the SDG. All member states of the United Nations adopted the SDG in 2015.
Police prepared their stats with information from cases filed after accidents. The two road-safety organisations' annual accident reports are based on media reports.
Nirapad Sarak Chai said 4,439 people were killed in 3,103 road crashes last year while Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity said 7,221 people were killed in 5,514 road crashes.
Experts and activists said the actual number of road crashes and casualties would be much higher than the police figure. They said many accidents go unreported by the media as well.
Tens of thousands of students took to the street demanding road safety following the deaths of two college students in a road accident in the capital on July 29 last year.
The movement forced the government to take several steps to curb road accidents. Even, the Prime Minister's Office intervened and issued a number of directives.
In late August, it asked the authorities to make sure that bus passengers are picked up and dropped off only at bus stops and the doors of buses are kept closed when they are running.
It said photos of the driver and his helper must be kept at two visible places in buses.
The PMO recommended introducing remote-controlled traffic signalling system in the capital.
Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association had also decided to abolish the system of daily contracts with drivers and their helpers to stop buses racing on streets.
Road Transport Act-2018 was passed in parliament in September but it is yet to be made effective.
WHY IT'S RISING?
Experts and road-safety campaigners said the numbers of accident and casualties were on the rise in absence of a comprehensive action plan to curb road crashes.
They said most of the steps taken by the authorities were related to enforcement of law but road safety cannot be ensured only by enforcing law.
Prof Mizanur Rahman, director of Accident Research Institute at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said every country goes through a certain stage when road crashes rise. It was related to development, he said.
Japan witnessed around 16,000 deaths annually in the 70's when development activities hit its peak there but they had taken many counter measures and succeeded in bringing down the number below 3,000 in 2017, he said.
“It won't be wise to think we will be able to bring down the number to 1,000 within a year or two. However, the steps taken by the authorities to curb accidents are not sufficient,” he said.
The expert mentioned six Es (Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Environment, Encouragement and Evaluation) to ensure safe road.
Engineering refers to road design and related issues; education about usages of roads and traffic rules; enforcement of relevant laws; road side environment; encouraging people about traffic rules and safe usages of road; and evaluation of the measures taken by the authorities and rectify those, he said.
“If you want to ensure safe roads, you have to implement the six Es. Road safety could not be ensured only by enforcing laws,” he said.
Eminent economist Hossain Zillur said the authorities have taken many steps to curb accidents but those steps cannot yield expected results due to lack of coordination.
The government's high-ups might want to bring positive changes but a lack of accountability among the implementing authorities and a vested interest group are hindering large reforms, said Zillur, also the convener of Safe Road and Transport Alliance (Srota).
“Leaders of transport owners and workers, who have political clout, are creating obstacles to initiatives for reforms and thus the number of accidents can't be curbed,” said the former adviser to a caretaker government.
He also blamed road users' lack of awareness as a major reason behind accidents.
Prof Mizanur said to achieve the SDG target, the government has to cut the number of deaths reported in 2016 by 50 percent by next year.
At least 2,463 people were killed in 2,566 crashes in 2016, according to police statistics.
“But, given the present road network and safety measures, it is almost impossible to bring down deaths to 1,200 a year … ,” Prof Mizanur said.
“More measures have to be taken … ,” he told The Daily Star on March 9.
Zillur said, “Road accidents are on the rise instead of coming down, meaning we are walking on the wrong path with regards to achieving the SDG target.”
HIGHWAY ACCIDENTS DECLINE
The number of road crashes and casualties has declined on national highways in the last three years, Deputy Inspector General (highway police) Atiqul Islam said.
At a programme on March 9, Atiqul said 70 percent accidents used to be on highways.
“But in the last two years, we have recorded all accidents and have taken measures. As a result, accidents decreased on highways even though the number of accidents overall has increased,” he claimed.
At least 1,439 people were killed in 1,189 crashes on highways last year while 1,769 people had been killed in 1,810 crashes in 2016, according to the police.
The highway police, established in 2005, have jurisdiction over 3,812km of national highways.
Nazrul Islam, secretary of road transport and highway division, told The Daily Star on March 11, “I don't think accident rate has increased. I don't think anything abnormal has taken place here.”
Around 15 lakh vehicles have increased since 2015 and thus human mobility also increased, he said, adding, “So, you have to consider the increasing number of vehicles while counting the accidents.”
About the SDG target, the secretary said, “We think we are near the target.”
Nazrul said a committee, led by former shipping minister Shajahan Khan, has been formed to recommend measures to curb road accidents and the ministry would take actions following its suggestions.