The government can no longer stay indifferent to the growing number of accidents, said to kill about 2,200 people annually
Unlike an air crash, a fatal road accident doesn’t receive the media attention it deserves although it involves far more deaths and injuries. The frequency with which vehicular accidents are taking place, especially on the highways of Nepal, is simply nerve-racking. There are numerous causes behind these accidents, but most of them could have been largely avoided had the driver shown some answerability to his passengers, whose fate lies in his hands. The night bus that plunged into the Trishuli River at Banchhetar of Gajuri on the Prithvi Highway Sunday morning, for one, could have been averted if the driver had not been speeding. Preliminary investigation shows that the driver lost control of the speeding bus, which veered off the road and fell 30 metres below into the river after smashing a concrete median barrier on the roadside. The bus plunge left eight dead and 29 injured.
Bus accidents in the past have claimed many times more lives, especially on the mountain roads of the country. As in the above case, over-speeding and over-loading are blamed for the majority of the accidents. Other causes include mechanical failure and poor road conditions, where the roads are pockmarked with potholes. Add to these loitering animals and people on the highways. It is not that there are no laws to maintain safety standards in Nepal. On long distance routes, it is mandatory to have two drivers to take up six-hour shifts. Drivers must take half-hour breaks after every four hours of driving. Overloading is prohibited, so is over-speeding. If only these rules were followed, the number of serious bus accidents would come down sharply. With so many fatal road accidents taking place in Nepal year after year, it should have made the concerned authorities, especially the Department of Transport Management, sit up and do something to improve the situation. Unfortunately, a vehicular accident is seen as something that is bound to happen in a mountainous country like Nepal where the roads are twisty and bad.
Can something be done to make long-distance travel by road safer, especially in the hills and mountains? One might question why one gets to hear less of accidents in neighbouring countries although their mountain roads could be just as treacherous as ours. Could it be that the traffic rules are strictly implemented there? The inexperience of the driver could also be contributing to the number of accidents here, especially on mountain roads. So what about introducing regulations that forbid drivers with less than 10 years of experience from driving a passenger bus in the hills and mountains? Drivers are having a field day with the traffic cops showing laxity in their monitoring duty, and getting away with light punishment for violating the traffic rules. The traffic police must, therefore, enforce the traffic rules and regulations and see to it that they are strictly followed by the drivers. The government can also no longer stay indifferent to the growing number of accidents involving different types of vehicles in the country, said to kill about 2,200 people annually, the highest in south Asia. Only skilled drivers who take the traffic rules to heart and good roads will help make long-distance travel safe and sound.
If the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division has its way, then pillion riders of two-wheelers in the Kathmandu Valley will need to wear helmets just like their front riders. This step comes in the wake of an increasing number of accidents in which many pillion riders are losing lives. Statistics speak for themselves. Almost 79 per cent of the 1,184,907 vehicles registered in Bagmati zone are two-wheelers, and of the 46,349 road accidents in the last five years in the Kathmandu Valley, two-wheelers were involved in more than 56 per cent of them. And of the 779 people who lost their lives to road accidents during the period, 260 were either motorbike riders or pillion riders.
This is the second time an attempt is being made to have the pillion rider wear a helmet, this time an ISO-certified one. The provision first came into force in 2005 but was dropped after it became practically infeasible for a motorbike to be carrying two helmets. The new provision for the pillion rider will see some opposition, but it should be welcomed if it is going to save a lot of lives from head injury. And one can expect the people to religiously wear the helmet once the provision comes into force.
A version of this article appears in print on May 21, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.