Accountability for road accidents and safety measures

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Offline Rozina Akter

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Accountability for road accidents and safety measures
« on: August 04, 2013, 02:37:38 PM »
Commuting in the capital and elsewhere in the country is now a real problem, as many roads lie potholed for months in the absence of timely repair. Rain and water-logging in recent weeks have deteriorated the situation, adding to the plight of commuters.

The city corporations, according to reports, will not take on any major repair job before the end of this month as the rain will hinder the work. They, however, see no problem in the construction of footpaths and drains, making the roads narrower only to compound the nagging traffic congestion.

The Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) sought Tk 4.0 billon for road maintenance and traffic management in this fiscal year but received an allocation of Tk 1.78 billion. The Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) got allocation of Tk 2.36 billion against a demand of around Tk 5.0 billion for this fiscal. Due to a fund crisis, the authorities are reportedly doing their work in order of priority. The contractors are now busy in doing emergency works to drain rainwater from roads into the storm sewer system. The roads that are supposed to last at least three years are turning shabby within six months because of water-logging.

Meanwhile, frequent accidents are taking place in different areas owing to bad road conditions, especially at Green Road, Jurain Natunrasta and Sutrapur areas, where contractors are digging trenches to construct surface drain or storm water drainage line and repair footpaths. Dilapidated road condition, badly managed intersections, disrespect to traffic rules and overwhelming number of vehicles have not only turned the country's roads highways extremely dangerous but also increased travel time between the capital and the rest of the country. Most of the 20,000-kilometre network of major roads in the country has become pot-holed due to lack of maintenance for months and in many cases for years. Hundreds of kilometres of roads now require urgent repair and maintenance.

Despite the highest budget allocation in communication sectors, why the condition of the roads is so bad remains a big question. The communication system is bound to collapse any time if the situation goes like this. Negligence of the communications ministry is widely blamed for the situation that has caused a lot of disappointment among a cross-section of people. On its part, the RHD maintained that repair work on some roads and highways were already done, but due to heavy rain they got damaged again. These roads need to be repaired again.

Rapid deterioration of the country's road communications system is mainly due to lack of funds and investments in the sector. Travel time between the capital and the rest of the country has risen beyond anybody's guess due to extremely bad condition of the roads. For instance, once it took a bus little over two hours to cover the 160-kilometre distance between Dhaka and Mymensingh. The identical journey could now take up to ten hours. The same situation has slowly crept into the entire communications system in the country.

A high growth in urbanisation and motorisation has been be identified as factors leading to the higher number of road accidents. Recent studies claim that the annual urban growth rate in Bangladesh stood at 4.0 per cent in 2010, whereas the present growth in motor vehicles stands at 8.0 per cent. Consequently, the road systems are experiencing greater congestion, physical deterioration and safety problems.

Experts, however, blame lack of enforcement of the concerned rules by the authorities and the government's inability to implement the recommendations for ensuring safe highways. There has been an alarming rise in road accidents, significantly highway accidents, in Bangladesh over the past few years. According to a study conducted by the Accident Research Centre (ARC) of BUET, road accidents claim on average 12,000 lives annually and lead to about 35,000 injuries. According to World Bank statistics, annual fatality rate from road accidents is found to be 85.6 per 10,000 vehicles.

Members of the law enforcing agencies, in most cases, prefer to remain on the safe side. Sometime, they get hold of the errant drivers, but in most cases, they set them go scot-free allegedly on payment of bribes. What is worse, while road traffic fatalities do raise commotion, they hardly lead to any comprehensive or sustained actions by the authorities. It is most likely that the tragedies that occurred very recently on the highways will be forgotten soon, without prompting any effective actions from the authorities.

Since there is no comprehensive law in the country, guilty drivers return to the road with the same vehicles, while employers of unregistered drivers cannot be tried. As per Section 304(B) of the Penal Code, killing a person due to reckless driving is a bailable offence and the highest punishment for it is a three-year jail term or fine or both. Only the accused drivers can be implicated under Sections 279, 304 and 304(B) of the Penal Code. But there is no law to try the vehicle owners even though they employ such drivers.

Under the present circumstances, the most worrisome aspect is that there is a lack of accountability everywhere. The drivers seem to believe they can get away with road traffic fatalities. On the other hand, the law enforcers do not always show the desired urgency to enforce the rules and regulations, and penalise the violators.

The traffic police department has a crucial role to play in identifying and holding accountable reckless driving, speeding and unstable or overloaded vehicles. The maintenance, repair and expansion of roads coupled with setting up dividers on national highways, cautioning signals for hazardous locations, disseminating information on driving and road safety to masses through media and exemplary punishment for violating traffic laws are some of the main areas that need to be worked on rigorously by the government.

As citizens, everybody has a role to play in ensuring road safety. While travelling in public transports, passengers should protest and stop speeding and reckless driving by bus and taxi drivers. Owners of motor vehicles should ensure that the drivers employed by them have genuine licences, are properly trained and drive responsibly.

In order to minimise the number of road accidents, therefore, an effective and comprehensive system of accountability needs to be put in place whereby not only the reckless drivers will be made to face the music for their actions but also the law enforcers will be called to account for their inactions.
Rozina Akter
Assistant Professor
Department Of Business Administration