Time to Act against Road Accidents; the No 1 Local Killer in Sri Lanka
Posted on August 7th, 2011
by Dr. Chandana Jayalath
The world’s highest rate of road accidents has been reported in Saudi Arabia not because of bad roads but uncontrollable over-speed with the increased motorization rate of vehicle per 1000 population. During the period from 1971 to 1994, the number of traffic accidents was increased by 30 times. The next in line is Sri Lanka, more or less on the similar reason. By comparison, 1,605 people died in road accidents in Australia last year, a country of 21 million, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Nearly half a million people were killed or injured last year in road accidents in China, a country with 65 times as many people as Sri Lanka. The number of deaths caused globally by road accidents daily at present is 1.3 million, and the annual prediction by 2020 is 1.9 million. Half of those killed by road accidents are pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. According to traffic police statistics, nearly 60,000 road accidents are reported annually in Sri Lanka, of which at least 2,200 are fatal. The National Council for Road Safety statistics reveals that road accidents is the number one killer among people in the 15 to 29 age group in Sri Lanka. The three decades from 1977 to 2007 recorded 1,120,848 accidents, 40,000 deaths, 370,000 injuries and 68,440 serious injuries. This means at least a one person dies in each 4 hours. The annual social cost of road traffic injuries in Sri Lanka runs to over Rs. 10 billion, and the trend is upwards.
Although the majority of roads have been riddled with pot holes, rail crossings without gates and intersections without signals, amongst the man made perils are the VIP scods and private buses running races. During election times, many were knocked down by vehicles canvassing votes and there were ambulances also accompanying with those convoys. On April 27, 2005, between Alawwa and Walakumbura, a bus carrying 90 people met with an accident at a level crossing. The signal was green and the level-crossing gates were closed, a bus was participating in a race with another local bus, the winner being the first to cross the level crossing, and that the bus driver did not see the train in his haste. The bus was destroyed and the wreckage caught fire killing 35 people. Still some Omini bus drivers (some with exterior posters of political figures including that of HE the President) openly engage in races. Particularly, those travelling in Omni bus espouse a mind-set of ‘coming first’ with the support of two more ‘drivers’ waving hands standing at the footboard. This is often seen at Colombo Kandy, Colombo Galle and Colombo Anuradhapura bus sectors, giving fore-signals to drivers coming opposite that there is Police on duty. Even in driving rashly on the wrong side of the road and in red lights (where in many countries a criminal offence) it is an irony that even the passengers traveling on the bus tend to support the driver to get the bus released that will help them to go home early. Another side of the storey is that those driving in long run for instance Trincomale to Colombo are taking liquor and drugs at points they stop-over for meals. Pedestrians on the other hand seem to consider roads as their private domain walking across any road at any time from any place without paying any heed to moving traffic. Yellow lines are a licence to them to cross roads at any time, obliviously risking their own lives. Therefore, it is no secret that the number of road accidents is increasing by leaps and bounds.
It would be far more effective therefore to have a traffic patrol officer as a bystander at such points of operation to penalize an offender or chase after an errant motorist who does not obey the road rules. Unlike in other countries where mobile traffic patrol squads on motor cycles and police panda cars have the powers to indict offenders, Sri Lankan patrol squads are not seen engaged in the same tasks but seen rather escorting VIPs. The best solution would be for the police personnel to travel upto some distance in civil suit similarly as passengers and prosecute the irresponsible on the spot allowing no time for political influx into the legal process. More than any other source it is public responsibility that should take first to discourage not necessarily fast driving but uncontrollable reckless driving.
Under circumstances, it is time the entire Omni bus service sector is to undergo a comprehensive revamping process including minimum qualifications for new drivers, proper training by licensed instructors, educating on public rights, law and procedures, constant vigilance on violations, periodical tests on medical fitness, licensing the job profile, introduction of a uniform (all for both the driver and conductor). Such steps must be made inevitable since Omni bus is a significant public service in Sri Lanka so as to avoid reckless driving at least to some extent, boost up discipline and evolve occupational recognition. It is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance, that justice should not only be seen, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.