Co-ordination a must for implementing road safety issues
Road safety performance is not just poor, it is deteriorating gradually in Bangladesh. According to WHO data, annual road crash deaths per capita in Bangladesh are twice the average rate for high-income countries and five times that of the best-performing countries in the world. In South Asia, the per capita fatality rate in Bangladesh has increased more rapidly over the past three decades than the regional average. About 85% of all causative factors for road accidents involve the driver, 10% involve the highway and 5% involve the vehicle. The contributing factors of road traffic accidents in Bangladesh have been described as road and road environment, vehicles, and road users. The direct cause of the accident appears to be a clear failure in one of the three components: road, vehicle and human.
A UN report on the road safety situation of Bangladesh mentions Bangladesh has one of the highest fatality rates in road accidents with over 50 fatalities per 10,000 on-road motor vehicles. Vulnerable road users-pedestrians, children, bicyclists, cycle rickshaw occupants and pullers are the worst affected victims and they account for 80 percent of road traffic accident fatalities.
The Stockholm declaration on road safety calls upon Member States to contribute to reducing road traffic deaths by at least 50% from 2020 to 2030 in line with the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development's pledge to continue action on road safety-related SDG targets, including 3.6 after 2020, and to set targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries, in line with this commitment, for all groups of road users and especially vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists and users of public transport.
Declaration includes road safety and a safe system approach as an integral element of land use, street design, transport system planning and governance, especially for vulnerable road users and in urban areas, by strengthening institutional capacity with regard to road safety laws and law enforcement, vehicle safety, infrastructure improvements, public transport, post-crash care, and data. Focus on speed management, including the strengthening of law enforcement to prevent speeding and mandate a maximum road travel speed of 30 km/h in areas where vulnerable road users and vehicles mix in a frequent and planned manner, except where strong evidence exists that higher speeds are safe, noting that efforts to reduce speed, in general, will have a beneficial impact on air quality and climate change as well as being vital to reducing road traffic deaths and injuries;
UN General Assembly Resolution 74/299 declared a "decade of action for road safety 2021-2030" with the target to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by at least 50% during the target period. This global plan calls upon governments and partners to implement a Safe System Approach.The Road Transport Act 2018 (RTA) was passed repealing the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983 with a view to reducing road crash fatalities and achieving SDGstargets and Goals. In another development, Bangladesh National Road Safety Strategic Action Plan (NRSSAP) in its eighth edition is organized on nine key safety themesplanning, management, and coordination of road safety; road traffic accident data system; road safety engineering; road and traffic legislation; traffic enforcement; driver training and testing, vehicle safety; road safety education and publicity; and medical services for road traffic accidents victims.
Road safety issues include safe infrastructure for the movement of pedestrians and vehicles. That is why road safety engineering is so important for ensuring road safety. If roads are not properly designed, constructed addressing safety standards and are not regularly maintained, safety on road is compromised. Likewise, footpaths, zebra crossing marks, installation of traffic signs and signals and keeping them operational are also critical for safe road use. Frequent crossing/right turning options, discriminatory manual traffic signal management,and chaotic intersections in cities also compromise safety on roads vis a vis creating mismanagement and traffic congestion. Road safety engineering includes lane separation at grade level for smooth movement of multimodal transports on the road.
There are provisions for penalties for driving after drinking and or driving under influence of drugs in the RTA 2018. But the process of determining the level of alcohol in the blood of the accused or how to determine whether a driver is under influence of a drug has not been prescribed in the law or existing Rules.A point can be deducted from a driving license as a penalty if a driver is found driving being drunk or under influence of drugs. The Authority can declare a driver unfit and cancel, revoke or suspend his license if found inter alia, drunk. But how a person can be proven drunk has not been provided in the Act or Rules. Therefore, it is difficult to prove this offense. The RTA 2018, section 40 deals with the construction, equipment arrangement and maintenance of motor vehicles. But it does not provide for any provision as regards the arrangement of the child restraint system. Existing Rules also lack such provision.
Driving under influence of drink or narcotics has been barred under the RTA but a driver can be unfit otherwise also. He can be sick, tired due to overwork, and have short eyesight. These are also required to be addressed in the legislation. A sick driver should not be allowed to drive and there should be fixed working hours stress for driving. Annual physical checkups for every driver should be included. Traffic management is a cross-cutting issue. The agencies for the construction and maintenance of roads are primarily responsible for facilitating the safe movement of vehicles on the roads and the smooth management of traffic volume. Road construction agencies have to consider safety and management factors. If traffic management is not smooth safety becomes compromised.
Road safety engineeringissue is the primary issue for ensuring road safety. Whatever good traffic laws be there, if the road is not constructed and maintained considering the safety issue, safety cannot be ensured.The ultimate success rests in the enforcement of the law itself. If the enforcement is not efficient and professional there will be no expected result in terms of road safety. The enforcement issue is also crosscutting. All the concerned agencies have to comply with safety regulations otherwise safety will be compromised. In the RTA 2018, the provisions for helmet use for drivers and pillion, ban on driving under influence of drink or drugs and seat belt use have been provided. On the other hand, there is no mention of e-bikes, BAC limit and child restraint system in the act. However, Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution (BSTI), the national institution for setting standards has already a standard for a protective helmet for motorcycles and scooters but the reference to the helmet standard is missing in the RTA 2018.
We need to set speed limits for different road types immediately and enforce them. Issue executive orders under section 49, RTA 2018 to address behavioral risk factor issues where possible. Need to establish a central coordination body for road safety engineering, traffic management and enforcement. Take a multimodal awareness-building program involving stakeholders including civil societies.Need a long-term action plan to address road safety engineering issues central coordination body to monitor.Promote scooters instead of high-power motorcycles to check speedy bikers.Involve private sectors to invest in standard training facilities. BRTC may also invest in more facilities. The public-private partnership may have opted.Establish more vehicle fitness testing facilities (BRTA) to cope with demands.
The writer is a researcher and columnist