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Urgent Need to Address Escalating Road Accidents

17 August 2015 09:15 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


oad Accidents are fast becoming one of the predominant causes of deaths in Sri Lanka. Not a day passes without headline news on Electronic Media Broadcasts or Newspaper front pages carrying details of appalling road tragedies reported countrywide resulting in the deaths of the innocent and helpless.       
Road Accidents are disturbingly on the rise as never before. Sometimes they are reported from very remote areas at times there is hardly any vehicular traffic on roads. There are many factors that cause road traffic accidents that include inter alia, recklessness, undisciplined driving, driving under the influence of liquor, fatigue, failure to obey traffic rules, bad condition of vehicles, undue speeding to catch up with time, infrastructure defects of roads and lack of concern by pedestrians to follow road rules, etc. Drivers falling asleep while at the wheel has on many occasions led to fatal accidents. Whatever the cause may be, accidents often result in physical harm to unsuspecting innocent people who happen to be at the wrong places at fateful times. These in turn lead to social issues particularly when sole breadwinners of families suffer fatal injuries sustained in road tragedies or end up being disabled making the lives of all the dependents as well as victims of mishaps miserable beyond imagination. Growing propensity on the part of omnibus drivers to flout traffic rules, drive at speeds beyond approved limits and driving recklessly at terrific non-controllable speeds to grab as many passengers as possible has evidently been a noticeable reason for increasing road tragedies.   

In 2014, nearly 38,500 road traffic accidents had been reported of which 36% were categorized as “critical” with nearly 7% resulting in fatal claiming innocent lives. One of the measures being initiated to curb the rising incidence of road accidents is to re-introduce radar speed guns manned by traffic cops and install speed limit traffic signs on selected roads to apprehend motorists who violate traffic rules. It has been observed that policemen are in the habit of taking cover behind trees, walls and bends, etc armed with radar speed guns to catch errant motorists in a virtual game of hide and seek. Sometimes it is farcical to observe policemen conducting themselves in a surreptitious manner to avoid being seen by oncoming motorists with a view to pouncing upon errant drivers to fine them. In terms of enforcement such measures alone would prove drastically insufficient as it appears to have only a transient impact. Motorists who know their way around would respond by evolving their own tricks to circumvent capture by co-operating with one another on roads by warning others about the presence of cops. One of the popular ways adopted is flashing head lights to oncoming motorists to warn them about the presence of traffic police officers in close proximity, which would permit reduction of speed to avoid punishment. Moreover, it is a public secret that street-smart drivers who know the ropes well are able to go scot free avoiding stricter punishment even after being caught by traffic police. So, current mechanisms of enforcement of traffic rules may not appear to be efficacious and they have to date failed to produce a desired level of driver behaviour on roads adhering to required safety standards.
To effectively tackle the rising tide of road accident-related tragedies and casualties that are practically taking place on a day-to day-basis, it is imperative that the relevant authorities take serious note of the adverse consequences of the inability to curb accidents and find effective mechanisms and strategies to arrest this disturbing trend, which is getting rapidly out of hand by the day. One of the recommended and productive initiatives would be to introduce countrywide speed watch programmes to create greater awareness on potential dangers and risks involved in driving without complying with traffic rules. It has to be organized as a collective endeavour launched in the form of an integrated action programme spearheaded by the Police Department working in conjunction with Government Institutions such as the Social Services and Public Welfare Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Public Transport Ministry, the National Transport Commission, Omnibus Owners’ Associations, Universities, Think -Tanks, Non-Governmental Organisations, volunteer Groups and Private Sector Agencies undertaking public and market surveys, etc.


"In 2014, nearly 38,500 road traffic accidents were reported of which 36% were categorized as “critical” with nearly 7% resulting in fatal"

By joining forces these institutions could carry out independent surveys, and provide monitoring support, professional expertise and other forms of necessary assistance to analyse in-depth, the magnitude of the problem and causal factors and for that purpose develop a comprehensive database comprising details relating to types of traffic rule violations, speeding levels of errant drivers and those causing accidents, number of accidents reported, types of accidents, nature of outcome based on magnitude of losses incurred in terms of damage to properties and physical harm caused to victims, etc, roads, arteries as well as black spots where potential for road hazards are very high, conditions of vehicles involved in accidents, skills and experience levels, etc of drivers and cases of drunk driving, fatigue, falling asleep at the wheel, etc. that have led to accidents, to identify priority areas of focus and nature of corrective measures that need to be initiated to grapple with the issue.
Playing Hide and Seek with Motorists in the name of enforcement of traffic rules while leaving room for errant drivers to artfully slip through and escape punishment in street smart ways, would no doubt have fallen far short of what it takes to effectively address core issues, which as a result continue to remain unaddressed and unremedied causing people continued distress today. Hence authentic measures need to be taken through a comprehensive action plan involving the state sector as well as non-state sector players to carry out speed checks and other forms of monitoring to gather as much data as possible, to fully understand various facets and contributory factors to the menace of road tragedies, with a view to evolving pragmatic and realistic solutions by instilling people-friendly-road-behavior in drivers, which would ensure that every person at a wheel would take maximum care and precautions to avoid potential road hazards.

A countrywide multi-tiered action programme could be implemented with an appealing Motto, such as “Safety First” or “Safety is Top Priority” giving widest possible publicity through all forms of media to attract and garner unstinted support of the general public as well as motorists to this worthy endeavour, so as to achieve the highest possible degree of success. This programme could be carried out in a few stages starting from selected areas from different parts of the country considered more accident prone. The initial stage of the programme could be devoted to create “Awareness” and to highlight the pertinent fact that the rising tide of road accidents has become a national-scale social issue, that is seriously affecting the safety of pedestrians as well as motorists and people who use public and private transport. Errant drivers identified as driving at higher than the approved speed limits during monitoring exercises could be referred for compulsory counselling and coaching sessions to be conducted by the traffic police in conjunction with institutions and think tanks which would provide professional expertise to enable participants to gain invaluable exposure and insight into core issues, causal factors,  potential hazards of non-compliance and human behavioural lapses, defects and deficiencies that cause tragedies, while also placing emphasis on recommended and preferable remedial measures to be taken to avoid road mishaps. As part of this programme, tailor-made video footage as well as footage on real life accidents graphically depicting how accidents lead to irreparable catastrophes in terms of loss of lives, limbs and property could be shown for the benefit of the participants to convey a strong message in a most effective manner that safe driving is the only way.

Interactive coaching sessions and empirical evidence gathered during monitoring exercises could be effectively utilised in the form of a 360-degree feedback to identify multi-factorial issues involved, which need to be addressed with a view to evolving pragmatic solutions, and a set of guidance demonstrating how to develop people friendly and safety concerned human behavior on the part of drivers, while ensuring automobiles are maintained at roadworthy state of good repair. Moreover emphasis needs to be placed on the quality of infrastructure stressing that main arteries as well as all peripheral road networks should be maintained at acceptable standards to obviate road tragedies. While uplifting the standard of road networks could be a long-term objective, speedy measures could be initiated to as far as possible address other areas of priority.  
Many programmes despite their importance fall by the wayside ending up as plans not executed due to want of necessary funds. To source funding for the execution of this progarmme, errant drivers could be asked to pay for participation in consultation and coaching sessions, instead of paying traffic fines. In addition to punitive measures, steps should also be taken to reward accident-free driving and the ability to drive without attracting fines by adhering to traffic rules through an incentive programme to encourage better and safer road behaviour. As part of the incentive programme to recognize accident free driving and flawless adherence to traffic rules, measures could be taken to offer financial reward in the form of a discount on the annual fee levied on the renewal of revenue licenses. Moreover, those who are able to drive accident-free in a given year could be entitled to receive free life insurance cover up to certain amount for the next year at the time of renewing motor insurance cover. Similarly drivers who have earned incentives for accident-free flawless driving should be recognized by giving preference in offering employment in state as well as private sector institutions. This way authorities could effectively use the “Carrot and Stick” method to develop well disciplined and safety-concerned drivers in Sri Lanka.
Hope authorities would take note of the urgent need to effectively address the rising tide of road accidents that claims innocent lives on a daily basis, by taking constructive measures.
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