By Gitanjali Marcelline
Colombo, April 20 (newsin.asia): Rising fatality in road accidents in Sri Lanka is worrying. In 2016, 2824 deaths had occurred in 38,915 road accidents. In 2018, according to WHO, road accident deaths had risen to 3,590. The death rate from road accidents in Sri Lanka is 16.37 per 100,000 population and the country’s world ranking in road safety is 96.
A local newspaper pointed out in an editorial on April 20, that, in the previous five days alone, there had been 52 deaths in road accidents.
In his paper entitled “Factors affecting the severity of road accidents in Sri Lanka: a logistic regression approach,” NAMR Seneviratna of Moratuwa University says that results of his study conducted in the Colombo area between 2014 and 2016 revealed that male drivers (98%) had a greater tendency to be involved in motorcycle and motor vehicle accidents than female drivers. A high number of motorcycle (75%) and motor vehicle (73%) accidents were due to aggressive and negligent driving. The highest number of motor vehicle accidents (20.5%) involved drivers in in the age group 29 – 34. The highest number of motorcycle accidents (28.5%) involved drivers between 19 and 24 of age.
The majority of accidents had occurred while the vehicle was moving on a straight road. Surprisingly, among drivers and motorcyclists only 7% were found to have consumed alcohol. Most of motorcycle and motor vehicle accidents occurred in daytime on weekdays.
Whose fault is it?
It is difficult to put the blame on any one factor. It is everybody’s fault. From unregulated and unscrupulous driving schools, corrupt examiners, corrupt traffic police, unskilled drivers, undisciplined public and private bus drivers, lorry (including Tipper) drivers, private car drivers, three-wheeler drivers, drunk drivers, motorcyclists, foot cyclists, pedestrians, and VIP convoys, all are responsible.
Among the reasons identified by the traffic police for the road accidents are; reckless driving, negligence, indiscipline, driver’s lack of knowledge of road rules and regulations, fatigue, human error, driving under the influence of liquor and drugs, jaywalking, poor conditions of vehicles and road infrastructural defects.
Starting with drivers’ lack of knowledge of road rules, driving schools are to be blamed. According to the Motor Traffic Commissioner, driving schools are set up under the Motor Traffic Act (Chapter 203) of Sri Lanka by the Motor Traffic Commissioner General. Currently there are about 538 driving schools registered under A, B, and C grades. Yet, the question remains – are the standards adhered to? Training is provided with as many as 5 to 7 learners bundled into a van or car. Very little real-time is given to learn driving. Also, there are no regulated fees. Bribes are demanded. Obviously, no concrete steps have been taken by the Motor Traffic Department to punish/rein in the corrupt driving school and examiners.
As for the Sri Lanka Traffic Police, according to their website, the Traffic Police assist the Inspector General of Police in formulating traffic policies and their implementation and follow-up. Their main functions are enforcing traffic laws. They investigate accidents, control traffic, provide pilot duties for VVIPs and assist the public at various social events and functions where motor traffic is involved.
But judging by the many reports/complaints, incidents of the traffic police flagging down motorists for uncommitted/imagined traffic violations and demanding bribes are many. And those who fall victim to these wiles are mostly ladies! Obviously not enough has been done to rein in corrupt officers.
Reckless driving (either to show off or under the Influence (DUI) of liquor or drugs) is another major concern. The other day when taking the Nugegoda flyover, I nearly froze in my seat to see a Ferrari overtaking me at breakneck speed crossing the double lines with scant regard to any other vehicle climbing up from the other side. Fortunately there weren’t any, and it did not end in a tragedy. In another instance, a tuk tuk driver drove zig zagging across the road at high speed nearly knocking an old woman over. What takes the cake is a motorcyclist trying to do stunts and nearly mounting a bull. Such antics make me wonder as to what trips these drivers are on! No person in his/her proper senses would have driven that way.
Poor conditions of vehicles is said to be another reason for accidents. How most SLTB and private buses, three-wheelers and even some lorries, vans and cars pass maintenance and emission tests when they should be junked. They are an ever present threat to other motorists and pedestrians.
Pedestrians, just as much as motorists, have a bounden duty to follow road rules instead of putting all the blame on motorists. I have seen people on the pedestrian crossing when the light is red, risking their lives and putting vehicle drivers in trouble.
Bad road maintenance is another cause for major road accidents resulting in many highways becoming death traps. The RDA should take concrete steps to ensure regular maintenance and upkeep of roads. As for by-roads, the UDA and Pradeshiya Sabha Councillors should follow proper tender procedures in awarding contracts. Engineering and road safety compliance/standards in road building and maintenance should be insisted upon. The recent Passara bus tragedy could have been avoided to a certain extent had the road been widened, proper maintenance had been in place and the driver had not driven at such a reckless speed.
Touching on Ceylon Government Railway’s (CGR) role in road safety, it is sad to see many rail crossings unprotected resulting in accidents and fatalities. The CGR is one of the pioneer and oldest transport companies and by now it should be experienced in handling railway safety and being a role model to others. But it is not.
Last but not least ministerial/VVIP drivers/convoys have the bounden duty to not drive fast and recklessly and risk the lives of other motorists and pedestrians. It is up to legislators to advise drivers/convoys to drive in a responsible and accountable manner and ensure an accident-free country.