KATHMANDU, Nov 26: Four years ago, a car running at Balkumari road section in Lalitpur suddenly hit an electric pole. The then in-charge of Lalitpur Traffic Office and Police Inspector Sitaram Hachhethu reached the spot. While investigating the cause of the incident, police found that the accident occurred due to a health issue of the driver rather than his negligence.
Police Inspector Sitaram Hachhethu said that the car went out of control and crashed after the driver suddenly fainted due to high blood pressure.
Earlier in the year 2013, he witnessed a similar incident. A car suddenly hit the traffic booth at Durbarmarg. While investigating the incident, it was found that the car went out of control and crashed due to high blood pressure of the driver. The third incident that Hachhethu observed was in 2019 when a car collided with a bus in Bhadrakali. While investigating the incident, Hachhethu found out that the driver had suffered from epilepsy, a chronic non-communicable disease of the brain that affects people of all ages. These are just a few examples of similar incidents of road accidents.
Hachhethu said that hundreds of such incidents are caused by health problems of the drivers, but the cause of the incident has not been addressed but due to lack of surveillance by the government. Rajendra Prasad Bhatta, spokesperson of the Kathmandu Valley Traffic Office, said that many accidents are caused by the poor status of drivers' health. However, because of the lack of study, no data has been collected in Nepal. “Many accidents occur due to drivers’ health problems, but we cannot provide evidence of it,” he said. He said that there has not been a separate investigation on this matter yet.
According to Hachhethu, there are many such incidents recorded due to the flaws in the process of issuing driver's license for both private and public vehicle drivers in Nepal.
Ashish Gajurel, a transport engineer and road safety expert, expressed that the main carelessness is in the process of not checking and not looking for the drivers’ health condition while issuing the driver's license and its renewal process. According to him, 40 percent of the accidents occur due to the negligence of the driver. It is found that the drivers’ health disorder, including mental health, is one of the major causes of accidents. He claims that our mechanism has not been able to incorporate such a serious issue.
Experts say that some drivers doze off while driving, which is not even detected, and this is the reason why accidents occur during long-distance driving. “In the case of long-distance drivers, there should be a mechanism to find out about the health condition at the time of renewal of driver's license,” he said. Driving license in Nepal incorporates only a general test of eye sight ability. Apart from that, there is no inquiry about any other health issues. “Verbal questions are asked about the health and documents are not searched for factual findings,” Gajurel said. Experts say that if there is no health check of drivers, one driver can put the lives of 60 people at risk in public transportation.
Some drivers drive more than their ability to compete during the festivals. Accidents occur when they are overloaded with work thinking that their friends are having fun during the festive seasons. A single driver should not drive more than 250 km in a day.
Gajurel said that in developed countries, drivers' blood pressure, epilepsy, and mental illness are checked during the issuance of driver's license. “In countries such as Canada, Germany, France, drivers are asked whether they have chronic illnesses,” he said.
According to him, chances of road accidents are higher when the driver is facing mental stress, emotional stress, insomnia etc. He suggested that in a country like ours, drivers should be given a license only after examining health status which includes hearing, eyesight, cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, mental illness, eye disease, epilepsy. His recommendation is that drivers with chronic illness should be encouraged not to drive by providing special counseling during the issuance of driver's license.
Experts suggest that the conduct of individuals should also be watched while issuing the driver's license. In the opinion of former traffic in-charge Hachhethu, a procedure should be prepared to examine the health status of drivers. He stressed that in every three years, health check-ups should be done for private vehicle drivers while for public transport drivers health check-ups should be done every one year. Similarly, Bhatta suggested that every driver should undergo a health check-up to ensure road safety.