Experts stress strict monitoring of vehicles and road conditions to reduce accidentsPolice data of the last five years show a total of 619 people died in 3,387 road accidents across the country during Dashain.
On Sunday, a day after Bhaitika, twelve people died in a bus accident in Salyan. The Salyan District Police said five passengers died on the spot while seven succumbed to their injuries on the way to hospital when a passenger bus heading for Dang from Salyan fell nearly 200 metres from the road at Kharkhola along the Rapti Highway in Salyan.
The victims were returning after celebrating the Tihar festival with their family members.
And a day before the Salyan accident, on Saturday, two youths aged 20 and 34 who were playing Deusi-Bhailo died when they were knocked down by a bus in Hetauda Municipality. Eight others were injured in the incident. The driver, who the police suspect might have been drunk, fled the scene. Angry locals set fire to the bus.
Similarly, nearly a month ago, on October 12, two days before the Dashain Tika, 32 people died and several were injured after a passenger bus plunged some 300 meters from the road at Pinataplekhola in Chhayanath Rara Municipality-7 in Mugu district. Police had suspected the accident was caused by a brake failure.
Nepal Police Headquarters said altogether 222 people died in 1,363 road accidents across the country in the past one month—from October 7 (Ghatasthapana) to November 7 (the day after Bhaitika).
Road accidents are common in Nepal and most of them are fatal. Transport experts and road engineers say bad and narrow roads especially in hill districts, driver negligence, disregard for traffic rules, old and poorly maintained vehicles and drunk driving are the main reasons for the accidents.
Every year, the country sees a spike in road accidents during the period between Dashain and Tihar festivals as a large number of people living in towns travel to their village homes. Bus tickets are hard to get due to fewer buses and more travellers so the buses are overcrowded.
“During the festive season, drivers lured by extra income are under pressure to do more trips than usual and as a result they are mentally and physically exhausted and these are perfect recipes for accidents,” says Ashish Gajurel, a transportation and traffic engineer.
Although every year traffic police set up mechanisms to check drunk driving, they have not been effective in reducing accidents.
Gajurel further said during Dashain and Tihar, drivers are allowed to operate across the country without route permits so many of them run unfamiliar routes and can get involved in accidents. Gajurel gave an example of how eight people died on October 11 after a passenger jeep from Kathmandu rolled off a cliff road in Kaski’s Annapurna Rural Municipality.
“That accident occurred because the driver had no experience of driving on that particular road section,” said Gajurel.
He further said during festive times especially Dashain buses are overcrowded and that has also resulted in more accidents.
Police data of the last five years show a total of 619 people died in 3,387 road accidents across the country during Dashain.
Gajurel says most of these fatal accidents were caused by technical failures including old and ill-maintained vehicles and poor roads.
“Neither the government nor the passengers are concerned about road safety and this is among the reasons for the spike in accidents during the festive season,” said Gajurel.
He said the authorities should install road safety barriers or fences along rural roads to prevent vehicle skidding. “This can save lives,” said Gajurel.
Experts say passengers also need to be careful about the conditions of vehicles and roads and avoid boarding crowded vehicles.
“If a bus is carrying passengers more than its seating capacity, then people should avoid travelling on such a bus. This can prevent accidents,” said Bhim Dhakal, former chief of the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, Kathmandu.
He blamed drivers’ carelessness and bad roads for the increasing number of accidents. “Dashain, the biggest festival, comes soon after the monsoon season, and this year monsoon rains continued till Dashain. This could be another reason for this year’s higher number of accidents and fatalities,” said Dhakal.
In the first week of October, just ahead of Dashain, when most people were set to travel to their hometowns and villages to celebrate the festival, out of the 226 damaged road sections linking different parts of the country, 133 had been reduced to one lane and two road sections were still closed due to landslides caused by the heavy monsoon rains.
Meanwhile, traffic engineer Gajurel says strict monitoring of motor vehicle condition, road status audit and surveillance of safety protocol are necessary to reduce the increasing number of road accidents. “In doing so more lives can be saved,” said Gajurel.