Road safety must be a priority to end needless deathsMaking the streets safer for pedestrians and drivers should be a major policy priority.
Reports of road accidents continue to make headlines at an alarming rate. With 1.35 million people dying in traffic mishaps every year worldwide, they have become one of the gravest risks to public safety. In Nepal too, death on the highways happen all too often. In fact, according to a government report entitled Nepal Road Safety Action Plan (2013-20), the country has one of the highest road fatality rates. The country sees 17 accidents per 10,000 vehicles, which is higher than, for instance, for China and most of Southeast Asia. Our roads are inefficiently designed, streets are poorly lit, traffic lights don’t seem to work in many places, vehicle safety standards are inadequate, and law enforcement is weak.
With a population explosion, coupled with lack of public transport, the number of vehicles has risen, and traffic congestion is increasingly becoming a never-ending problem issue facing residents. As accidents continue to claim lives on a regular basis, And that needs to be done by adopting a holistic approach involving engineering, education, and enforcement.
Road etiquette and infrastructure both are to be blamed for the lack of order on the roads. Infrastructure such as zebra crossings, overhead bridges, sidewalks and so on are few and far between. Therefore, pedestrians are often forced to cross the road wherever they can. As it is, with 60 percent of the zebra crossings in the Kathmandu Valley lying discoloured for years, pedestrians crossing the road are putting their lives on the line.
Even in places where there are zebra crossings, motorists and bikers tend to speed up when they see a pedestrian, simply showing disregard for them as a valid road user. Pedestrians too, on their part, need to stop jaywalking in an almost rule-free environment in order to avoid accidents.
Vision Zero—a public programme introduced in 1997 in Sweden to eliminate road accidents and injuries completely—is a good reference. With proper planning and implementation of traffic rules, low urban speed limits, separate designated lanes, additional pedestrian bridges and zebra stripes bordered with flashing lights, the Nordic country was able to drastically reduce its road accidents. Since 2000, the country has slashed traffic fatalities by half.
The lives lost during road accidents are often preventable deaths. With few walking lanes and long distances to cross, the roads in Katmandu are anything but pedestrian-friendly. This situation needs to be reversed. To guarantee our roads are safer, beefing up the infrastructure from the bare-bones currently in place is definitely a must.
Along with this, the government must also make efforts to inculcate road manners among the greater population. It has been taking measures, but they need to be sustained. Only when the authorities take concrete measures to establish intra-departmental coordination, say between the Traffic Police, the Roads Department and the Department of Transport Management, can there come a lasting solution to this recurring and fatal problem.
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