The govt needs to improve road engineering and regulate the traffic pressure to curb the high number of road accidents

Nepal has one of the highest death rates caused by road accidents in the world. Government statistics reveal that, on an average, 2,500 people are killed in road accidents every year while thousands of others are injured, some of them ending up in permanent disability. These accidents not only directly affect the concerned family members, but they also have an adverse impact on the national economy.

Such a large number of deaths in road accidents every year should have raised an alarm bell among the policy-makers and the concerned government agencies responsible for ensuring the safety of people travelling by road. The 58th annual report for fiscal 2019/20 submitted by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) to the President on Friday, revealed that road accidents had increased by an annual average of 7 per cent in fiscal 2017-18 and by 22 and 17 per cent, respectively, in 2018-19 and 2019-20.When the number of road accidents increase by a whopping 22 percent over a year, it reveals the sorry state of our roads and the government's total inability to reduce them to the expected level. There were a total of 46,712 road accidents in the last five years, which killed 11,945 people.

The OAG has blamed the sorry state of roads, traffic pressure, mechanical condition of vehicles, overcrowding passengers, lack of adequate knowledge on the part of the drivers, passengers and pedestrians, and rampant violation of traffic rules for the alarming rate of increase in road accidents. Not only the number of casualties, but also road accidents have also increased with each passing year, due mainly to negligence on the part of the authorities concerned, drivers, transport entrepreneurs, passengers and pedestrians.

The OAG report has said the tendency of issuing permits to vehicles without completion of road construction, lack of effective regulation of driving licence, poor implementation of and compliance with traffic rules and plying mechanically unfit vehicles have made the situation only worse. To address these problems, the government needs to improve road engineering and regulate the traffic pressure to curb the high number of road accidents.

Road accidents are rising even though road density in Nepal is considered to be the lowest in South Asian countries. Of the total 12,493 km of roads, 51 per cent are blacked topped, 36 per cent are earthen while the remaining 13 per cent are graveled. As per a World Bank Report, Nepal needs to invest an estimated extra US$879 million in road safety measures over the next decade to halve the existing trend of road fatalities.

Most of the people travel by road as air transportation is available in limited areas and is also very expensive.

The government should also improve its capacity in rescue operation and primary care of persons injured in road accidents to reduce the number of casualties. Arrangement of adequate number of pedestrian crossings, parking lots, traffic lights, CCTV monitoring system and traffic as well as awareness-raising programmes will aid in reducing road accidents. The government agencies responsible for managing roads must be sincere to address the serious problem of road accidents.

Stay away from crowds

The Nepal Police is learnt to have distributed nearly a million masks for free to people in the last four months. This is a laudable effort given the second wave of the coronavirus that has gripped the nation and a likely third wave anytime soon. The government has been suggesting people wear a mask at all times when they are outdoors, as part of its health standards. The police have been distributing the masks under the 'Where is your mask?' campaign, while the Traffic Police have been checking to see that all motorcyclists and drivers are wearing a mask.

But wearing a mask alone is not going to stop the transmission of the virus in the community. Observing physical distancing is just as important, but it does not seem like many people are observing this sane advice from the government and health professionals.

One has only to visit market places like Ason, Mahaboudhha and Indrachowk in Kathmandu, and the sheer crowds of people going about their business there make a mockery of the government's health protocol. So if the people don't want strict prohibitory orders in the near future, it would be necessary to start a campaign to observe both physical distancing and masking.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 24 2021, of The Himalayan Times.