Road killRoad traffic accidents are mostly manmade and can be prevented
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) a “road traffic injury is a fatal or non-fatal injury incurred as a result of a collision on a public road involving at least one moving vehicle”.
Road traffic injuries are not only life threatening, but also cause economic losses to victims, their families, and the government as well. These losses occur from the cost of treatment (including rehabilitation and incident investigation) as well as reduced or lost productivity (e.g. in wages) for those killed or disabled by their injuries.
WHO estimates that about 1.25 million people die each year due to road fatalities, while between 20 and 50 million people suffer non-fatal injuries, with many left disabled as a result of their injuries. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people, aged 15 to 29 years.
It has been reported that 90 percent of the world’s road fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries, despite these countries having half of the world’s vehicles. Data suggest that road traffic deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries are estimated to cause economic losses of up five percent of the GDP.
Traffic Directorate 2071/72 of the Nepal Police reports that 9,145 road accidents took place in Nepal and about half of them occurred in Kathmandu. A total of 2,004 people died and 4054 people suffered serious injuries. The number of road traffic accidents has been increasing every year in the country.
In Nepal, about seven in ten accidents are caused by the driver’s carelessness. Speeding, drinking and driving, mechanical problems in vehicles and overtaking are other major causes of road accidents. More than half the people dying in accidents fall in the age group of 17 and 35 years.
We need to understand that road accidents are not inevitable; they can be reduced to a large extent. A decrement in road fatalities requires legislation and enforcement, leadership and capability, education and information, understanding of accidents and risks, and innovation and research. Nepal Road Safety Action Plan 2011-2010 focuses on road safety management, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users and post-crash response. But the success of this plan depends entirely upon its implementation, which is the major challenge.
We have separated roads for different users at some places like Singhadurbar, and Maitighar to Tinkune, which provides greater safety to cyclists and pedestrians. An increment in the number of lanes also improves safety of motorcyclists. But still a number of places lack such facilities, leaving the road users vulnerable.
The implementation of drinking and driving countermeasures by the government has led to a decrement in the number of road accidents and deaths related to it by 16 and two percent respectively, in contrast to two years before the Mapase rule was implemented. This shows that government intervention to ensure safer roads is a worthwhile investment.
Not as effective
But some of the road safety measures adopted by the government are not as effective as they can be. For instance, currently we have the helmet law for motorcyclists but we lack the safety standards of helmets. Similarly, the seat belt law, only applied to drivers, leaves other passengers in the vehicle vulnerable. Child restraint laws like use of seat belts for children or not allowing children of certain age in the front seat are lacking in Nepal.
Inappropriate uses of vehicles due to the recent fuel crisis like travelling on the hood of buses, overloaded buses and three people riding one motorcycle have no doubt increased the chances of road accidents. Individuals need to follow traffic rules to keep themselves safe.
Greater progress in harmonising data on road traffic deaths is also needed in the country. Data must be recorded and reported to the police. Moreover, the government needs to realise that the lack of emergency care creates injury outcome disparities. Although a Trauma Centre in Bir hospital has started operating, post-crash care is still poor all over the country.
With the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, road safety is receiving increased international attention as well, and is included in two of the 17 goals of this new global agenda. This is good measure to reduce road traffic accidents.
Human and environmental factors are mostly responsible for road accidents, many of which can be prevented. Every individual—from pedestrians to light vehicle to heavy vehicle drivers to passengers—has to be careful while using roads. Road safety is everyone’s responsibility. The evidence on what works to save lives on the roads exists; the government and civil society just need to act on it.
Mahato is pursuing a Master’s in Public Health at Maharajgunj Medical Campus