Risky travellingDashain has begun. Every year around this time, nearly 3 million people stream out of the Kathmandu Valley to their home districts to celebrate the festival with their loved ones.
Dashain has begun. Every year around this time, nearly 3 million people stream out of the Kathmandu Valley to their home districts to celebrate the festival with their loved ones. Most of them rely on public transport. Barring a few exceptions, they will ride on vehicles in shoddy condition, many of which are not well maintained and have been running for decades. As a result, apart from most road accidents during and around the festival season caused by speed and drunk driving, the poor condition of the roads and vehicles has also significantly added to the death toll in recent years. As it is, Nepal’s roads have acquired a reputation for being among the most dangerous in the world. Given that, public safety is crucial and it should not be undermined at any cost.
According to data received from the Nepal Police, 483 people were killed in 2,953 road accidents across the country last year between mid-September and mid-November, the time of major festivals like Dashain and Chhath. During the same period, there were 343 road accidents involving public buses and 36 accidents caused by technical glitches. In 2015, a total of 378 road casualties were reported during the same period, with 241 bus crashes and 35 incidents owing to technical issues among a total of 2,033 road accidents. The death toll rose the following year when 385 people lost their lives during the festival season in over 2,500 road accidents that involved 329 bus accidents and 39 technical issues with vehicles.
Most accidents happen because drivers think it is okay to drink alcohol while driving as they are in a festive mood. Compound this with old vehicles that are in poor condition, and we get ghastly accidents involving public transport vehicles. The buses are usually over-crowded, and the drivers are young and incompetent who blatantly flout rules and regulations. Some have been fraudulently licensed too. But this is not a new problem. It has been persisting for years. Similarly, highways are in poor condition, too. Most rural roads are not even blacktopped, adding to the hazard of travelling by road. Landslides on the highways are commonplace too. Such disasters contribute to accidents and add to the woes of passengers.
Although travelling by air could be safer, most people cannot afford it. In such a case, there is no other option than improving the condition of the highways, the public vehicles and the attitude of the drivers. To begin with, restricting and regulating night buses could be a good start. Controlling overcrowding, stricter legislation and enforcement of driving while intoxicated, increased funding for highway improvement, increased presence of the traffic police on highways and local roads and so on could all be steps in the right direction to solve this problem. Festivals are a time to meet family and have a good time. Anxiety about whether one will be able to reach home safe and sound should ideally be a non-issue.