Our roads are unsafe to walk on and drive along. This is what the data of Nepal Police suggests. A total of 4,298 road accidents took place in the first four months of fiscal year 2018/19, leaving 864 people dead and 1,488 critically injured, says the data. Forty nine people lost their lives in road fatalities in the last one month. Police records show deaths in road accidents are in increasing trend, such that as it rose by 27 percent in the month of Kartik (mid-October to mid-November) in comparison to the number of previous month (mid-September to mid-October) this year. As we write this, someone along the risky roads somewhere inside the country may be risking his/her life. This should be a matter of grave concern for the government entities entrusted to ensure safety of travelers and pedestrians. The reason for road deaths is obvious: Our roads are not properly maintained and our drivers are not properly trained or are too young to take safety issue seriously. Few good measures taken to address this menace—such as mandatory provision of two drivers for long routes and limiting the age of driving—have not been properly implemented. The end result is there: Every few days we hear of reports of road accidents where a number of people lose their lives, leaving their families to fend for themselves, causing immense psychological and emotional trauma to the survivors.
It has been established that poorly constructed roads, lack of proper infrastructure and traffic police manpower, low age limit for heavy vehicle drivers are among the major factors abetting the road deaths. Reckless driving and poor design of roads are often found to be major causes. Only this Thursday, 20 people died in Nuwakot when an underage driver driving a mini-truck carrying about 40 persons could not negotiate a bend in the gravel road which was poorly designed. To make the matters worse, our major roads are poorly guarded by traffic police. According to police source, one traffic personnel has to take care of as many as 900 vehicles in Kathmandu Valley and as many as 650 vehicles outside the valley. That’s such a huge responsibility for an individual staff. Even though minimum age limit for acquiring driving license of vehicles is 21, in practice even drivers who look in their teens are seen driving microbuses on Kathmandu streets.
It is already becoming too late to make our roads safe for drivers, passengers, pedestrians and all road users. For this, the government needs to make road safety its top priority agenda, which is not the case in Nepal. Often the road safety becomes the issue only when accidents occur and people lose their lives. Now and then, measures are announced to limit overcrowding in buses but soon things return to status quo ante. The government needs to explore every possible measure to ensure road safety. Perhaps, road patrolling system can help. If mobilizing larger number of cops along the highway can contribute to the cause, let’s go for it too. If raising the age limit for acquiring driving license can help, we should go for this option too. Also, make sure that ineligible persons don’t get license through brokers or any other illegal channels. A number of measures are available. But none of this will work until we make road safety a top national priority.