2014: A year of road carnage

While developed countries have been successful in reducing the number of traffic accidents, the under-developed countries have been witnessing increasing death tolls, with a troubling increase in the frequency of accidents. A study carried out recently by the World Health Organization says that developing countries account for 90 percent of global road traffic fatalities.

Nepal has been no exception to this trend. Road accidents in this Himalayan country claimed 897 lives in the last five months while a total of 1,764 people were left seriously injured.

Yet, the government´s response to the need to bring down the frequency of road accidents appears feeble. It amounts to little more than the formation of a task force to study road accidents and the endorsement of amendments in regulations concerning the issuance of driving licenses.

According to the Traffic Directorate at Nepal Police Headquarters, the big road accidents occurred in Jajarkot, Kailali, Doti, Surkhet, Bardiya, Dhading, Palpa, Bara, Nuwakot, Okhaldhunga, Hetauda, Gulmi, Makawanpur and Khotang districts. Most of the accidents, according to police, were due to human factors–overcrowding of passenger vehicles and reckless driving- and poor road conditions in the hills.

Public transport expert Mukunda Raj Satyal argues that the government´s negligence in addressing the problem is more to blame than poor road conditions. “The major roads to the various hilly district are bumpy, narrow and steep and full of sharp bends. Although poor road conditions are a big problem, the government´s indifference towards accidents is an even bigger problem,” said Satyal.

Satyal also criticized statements made by the authorities and other stakeholders attributing the increasing number of road accidents to human factors, including driver negligence. “The government needs to point out its own shortcomings and develop a strategy to lower the frequency of accidents,” he said.

Of course, human factors matter a lot when it comes to road accidents, but it would not be just to lump all drivers together in the same basket. Experts say that since there are many factors behind accidents the problem will remain unabated until the government and other agencies concerned put in efforts to address these factors. They cite poor road engineering at sharp bends as a factor contributing to accidents.

Reports galore on reducing road accidents have been submitted to the government and reams of paper presented at different seminars and workshops. But hardly any of the recommendations made in these reports and papers, such as monitoring poorly engineered roads in rural areas, have drawn the serious attention of the government. “There are many passenger vehicles which have substandard body structure and no safety features,” complained Satyal.

Road accidents in Nepal killed over 9,760 people in the past six years alone. While some 22,115 others were seriously injured, another 43,090 sustained general injuries over the period, according to the Traffic Directorate. The annual mortality rate in road accidents in Nepal has stood at 1,800 over the past few years.

Although Kathmandu Valley witnesses about half the road accidents taking place in the country, the casualty rate is much lower compared to outside the Valley. Altogether 148 people were killed in 4,770 accidents reported in the Valley last fiscal year. By contrast, as many as 1,816 people lost their lives in 3,714 road accidents reported from outside the Valley in the same period.

According to a recent study carried out by the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) under the Ministry of Physical Infrastructures and Transport (MoPIT), more than half the road accidents were caused by human factors while 15 percent were due to narrow and defective roads.

Likewise, the poor condition of vehicles was found responsible for 20 percent of road accidents in Nepal. More than half the vehicles involved in road accidents in the year 2014 were found to be old and outdated, according to the study.

Secretary at MoPIT Tulsi Prasad Sitaula, who is also coordinator of the task force formed by the government to study road accidents, said accidents have been increasing at an annual rate of 14 percent. “We have prepared a 10-year Road Safety Strategy and eight-year Action Plan, with a view to halving the number of accidents in coming years,” said Sitaula.

A major step that needs to be taken in the coming year is to ensure clarity regarding the responsibility of those with authority to enforce the traffic rules, according to road safety experts. The responsibility for road safety issues and general transport management lies with the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) under MoPIT, as per the MVTM Act, but the enforcement of traffic rules is done by Traffic Police under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Transport syndicates, which are a major factor contributing to accidents, should be busted and the operation of old vehicles that are clearly unfit for Nepal´s difficult roads totally haltd, said police spokesperson DIG Madhav Joshi.

Police are preparing to suggest to the government to ban night buses over hilly terrain, increase the fines, give full authority to traffic police to investigate accidents, and make vehicle owners liable to fines if their loose cattle cause accidents, he said.

Although more than Rs 1.35 billion in revenue has been collected in penalties, a very small share of this has been spent on road safety and on ensuring good public transport. It´s high time the government started upgrading the rural roads and rooting out the syndicates, experts suggest.

Preventive measures

Educating public through mass media
Initiating road safety training campaigns in schools and colleges
Stern action against drink-driving
Widening narrow road sections
Improvements in road lighting
Making and enforcing policy to reduce number of luxury vehicles
Segregation of different types of road users
Building flyovers, link roads or underpasses
Enforcement of seat-belt rules
Making crash helmets mandatory
Proper and timely maintenance and monitoring of vehicles
Removal of sharp and dangerous projections from vehicles to reduce injuries
Standardized training and licensing of drivers
Use of technology to regulate traffic violations
Control speed of vehicle
First aid and emergency care for injured
Deployment of two drivers on long routes

Major road accidents in 2014

29th Sept- Five people died in bus accident in Dhading
6th Oct – 30 died in bus accident in Doti
22nd Oct- Six died in truck accident in Bara
24th Oct- 14 died in bus accident in Nuwakot
26th Oct- 10 died in jeep accident in Okhaldhunga
1st Nov- 10 died in two-bus collision in Hetauda
1st Nov- Four died in jeep accident in Gulmi
4th Nov- Seven died in truck accident in Makawanpur
20th Nov- 55 died in bus accident in Jajarkot
21st Nov- Seven died in jeep accident in Khotang
28th Nov- 12 died in bus accident in Kailali
7th Dec- 18 died in bus accident in Surkhet
8th Dec- Six died in van accident in Makawanpur