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Road terrorism and the breath of fresh air - EDITORIAL

17 November 2015 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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With Sri Lanka’s traffic snarls and road tragedy victims reaching their worst-ever proportions, we joined the international community last Sunday in marking World Remembrance Day for the victims of road traffic accidents, the victims’ families and friends on whom such tragedies, deadly or fatal, have serious long-term repercussions physically, mentally and otherwise.    

This day is commemorated annually on the third Sunday of November to remember the many millions killed and injured on the world’s roads, together with their families, friends and many others who are also affected. It is also a day on which we need to thank the emergency services and reflect on the tremendous burden and cost of this daily continuing disasters to families, communities and countries, and on ways to halt it.

Road deaths and injuries are sudden, violent, traumatic events. Their impacts are long-lasting, often permanent. Each year, millions of newly injured and bereaved people from every corner of the world are added to the countless millions who already suffer. The cumulative toll is tremendous, the organisers say. The grief and distress experienced by this huge number of people is all the greater because most of the victims are young. Many of the crashes could and should have been prevented. Governments and societies often respond to road death victims and their families in a manner that is inadequate, unsympathetic, and inappropriate to a loss of life or quality of life.

According to the organisers, this special Remembrance Day is therefore intended to respond to the great need of road crash victims for public recognition of their loss and suffering. It has also become an important tool for governments and those who work to prevent crashes or respond to the aftermath, as it offers the opportunity to demonstrate the enormous scale and impact of road death and injury and the urgent need for action. From 1995, the day has been observed in Europe and later in other continents. On October 26, 2005  the World Day was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as “the appropriate acknowledgement for victims of road traffic crashes and their families”. 

In Sri Lanka, what we see today is virtual terrorism on the roads. After fuel prices were slashed in the January-29 interim Budget, the substantial price reduction in other essential commodities did not reach the struggling consumers. In contrast, what we saw was a huge increase in the import of motor vehicles. Reports indicate that more than half a million vehicles have been imported this year. This has led to extra spending of foreign exchange for fuel imports, a waste of precious time and an increase in stress levels because of unbearable traffic snarls and worst of all a deadly increase in air pollution through carbon emissions. 

Government economic analysts have said the mid-term economic development strategy outlined by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on November 5, includes a comprehensive policy to reduce traffic jams in cities and suburbs. The speedy implementation of this plan would be a breath of fresh air for the people, most of whom are complaining that the new National Unity Government is promising much but producing little.

Government leaders and officials have indicated there may be new road taxes, toll roads and many incentives to encourage more people to use public transport instead of private vehicles. If this is to happen, public and private bus services need to be streamlined with crews being taught to act courteously and talk politely to passengers.  In the long-term, with the destination being to curb environmental pollution, the Government needs to give incentives for the import of electric vehicles including three-wheelers. One of Japan’s top vehicle manufactures put on show recently vehicles that are powered by hydrogen. 

We hope the Western Province and Megapolis Development Minister Champika Ranawaka and others will come up with novel and creative ideas to reduce traffic congestion and thereby road accidents. Every driver, before starting a vehicle, needs to remember that his or her driving licence means taking an oath of responsibility for his or her life and others in the vehicle, other travellers and road users including the elderly and children. Slow and steady will not only win the road race but also stand on the dais.          
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