Every day, we are confronted with distressing reports of road accidents resulting in fatalities and injuries. Despite the alarming number of lives lost on the roads, the root causes of these accidents are not being given sufficient attention. Authorities make promises to take effective measures after each road accident, but the issue quickly fades away, leading to a continued procession of deaths on the roads.
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Concerns surrounding road safety during Eid are regular phenomena too, as the movement of people and motor vehicles significantly increases during the pre and post-festival days. The Bangladesh Jatria Kallyan Samity (BJKS), a rights group that advocates for passengers’ rights, fears that the situation may be even worse this year due to the influx of a large number of motorbikes and easy-bikes in recent years.
The Bangladesh Jatria Kallyan Samity (BJKS) has further shared some concerning statistics that should serve as a wake-up call. During the Eid festival days, it is estimated that between 2.0 and 2.5 million motorbikes will be on the country’s highways, with approximately 1.2 million trips expected from Dhaka to neighbouring districts. Additionally, the number of ridesharing trips is projected to be between 2.0 and 2.5 million. While the rights group did not cite the sources for these statistics in its statement earlier this week, there is no denying the magnitude of the issue.
Accident statistics of last year Eid vacation
According to a report published by the Road Safety Foundation (RSF), at least 376 people lost their lives, and 1,500 others were injured in road accidents across the country during the Eid-ul-Fitr holidays. The report highlighted a rising trend in both accidents and deaths compared to the previous year’s festival. In 2021, there were 239 accidents during Eid-ul-Fitr, resulting in 314 deaths. Additionally, the report indicated that 283 road accidents occurred in the 14 days from April 25 to May 8.
Of the total deaths, 38 were women and 51 were children. Motorcycles were involved in the highest number of accidents, resulting in 156 deaths, which is 41.48% of the total deaths, before and after Eid days. The RSF compiled the report based on news published in nine national dailies, seven online news portals, and electronic media. Road accidents also claimed the lives of 49 drivers and assistants, and 496 vehicles were responsible for the accidents during the period.
Dhaka division reported the highest number of accidents and deaths, with 106 people killed in 83 incidents. On the other hand, Sylhet division reported the lowest number of fatalities, with nine people killed in seven accidents. Out of the total accidents, 132 occurred on highways, 87 on regional roads, 41 on rural roads, and 23 on urban roads. Furthermore, 19 people lost their lives, and three others were injured in 17 incidents on railway tracks, and five people died from seven incidents on waterways during the period.
Instructions from Ministry of Home Affairs
During the meeting held at the Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday (April 12) to discuss overall law and order during Eid and Pahela Baishakh, several decisions were made. Sources have revealed that a request has been made to repair potholes and trenches on various highways throughout the country in preparation for Eid.
To prevent movement, Karimon, Bhatavti, Easybike, Mahindra, and other similar vehicles will be banned in the highways during the Eid vacation period. Furthermore, regular mobile courts will be held to address these issues, and vehicles involved in accidents will be promptly removed and relocated to nearby empty spaces to prevent traffic congestion.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has directed the Armed Forces Department, Police, and RAB to keep helicopters prepared for handling major accidents on highways before and after Eid-ul-Fitr, to ensure prompt rescue operations. Additionally, fire services, rescue boats, divers, ambulances equipped with firefighting equipment have been instructed to carry out emergency rescue work on different roads, highways, and waterways during the holidays. The Coast Guard has been asked to stay vigilant, while police headquarters and other law enforcement agencies have been instructed to establish control rooms, besides maintaining law and order.
To prevent traffic congestion during the busy holiday season, it has been advised to assign a 24-hour team to repair minor potholes, broken areas, and provide sanding at significant construction sites, including Chandra on Tangail highway. Moreover, temporary camps will be established at railway stations, bus terminals, and launch terminals to monitor the situation closely. Highway police, RAB, and district police will increase patrolling and intelligence surveillance. Additionally, police have been instructed not to stop vehicles on roads and highways unless specific information is available, for seven days before and after Eid.
Directions from stakeholders meeting at BRTA
During a stakeholders meeting held on April 9 at the BRTA head office in Banani, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader provided various directives to ensure the safe and uninterrupted travel of passengers on roads and highways during Eid-ul-Fitr. Participants at the meeting, as well as local administrators connected online from various districts across the country, identified several challenges that need to be addressed to ensure smooth traffic flow during the holiday season.
During the meeting, it was agreed to keep all fuel stations and CNG pumps operating 24/7 throughout the country, including the five days leading up to Eid and the subsequent seven days. To prevent congestion, the movement of goods trucks will be prohibited on the highways for three days before Eid. Motorbikes will be allowed on the highways this Eid. The minister identified the lack of law and order on the roads as a major crisis and instructed the police and BRTA officials to work diligently to establish it.
Obaidul Quader said, “Our biggest crisis is discipline. We have not been able to enforce discipline on the road, nor in transport. The biggest challenge for us is how to enforce discipline. If there is discipline, traffic jams and accidents will be reduced.”
Last year, during Eid-ul-Adha, the ministry had barred motorcycles from running on highways three days before and after Eid. Motorcycles were also restricted to run only in the district where they were registered. However, the ministry has decided to backtrack from its previous decision this year.
Ilyas Kanchan, chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai (Nischa), has demanded to stop unfit vehicles on the roads in view of the upcoming holy Eid-ul-Fitr. He said, “The road communication system will be managed in such a way that passengers can reach their homes smoothly on Eid. I think accidents will reduce if two things are given importance. I have been talking about the issue of unfit cars for a long time. There are still unfit cars plying on the roads. To stop these cars. will.”
“Furthermore, no one without a license can drive, it must also be ensured. If these two things are confirmed, I think the accidents will be reduced”, added Nischa Chairman.
Dream of a safer road
The dream of achieving road safety in the country remains elusive as the number of deaths on the roads and highways continues to rise. According to a report by the Road Safety Foundation, there were 486 road accidents in March of this year, resulting in 564 fatalities and 1,094 injuries. Shockingly, an average of 21 people dies on the roads in Bangladesh every day.
Apart from its impact on public health and safety, road traffic injuries (RTIs) also have an adverse effect on the economy, costing Bangladesh around Tk 4,500 crore (USD 76 million) and accounting for roughly 1.5% of the country’s GDP every year.
The UN’s first Decade of Action from 2011-2020 was successful in raising global awareness around the issue of road safety. However, despite some improvements in how countries like Bangladesh addressed the issue, the number of RTIs remained high. This is why the UN has declared a second Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030 with more focus on taking action rather than just declaring it. The fact that almost all traffic-related injuries and fatalities can be prevented and anticipated is crucial to understand. But to prevent them, countries need to prioritise road safety and implement evidence-based, systematic-level interventions that can save countless lives.