Hardly a day passes without the painful news of deaths in road accidents. And it seems that we are helpless to do anything to redress the horrendous situation. Either that, or the administration is least concerned about the problem. Only the day before yesterday, a newborn was killed and at least 15 others were injured when an ambulance collided head-on with a bus in Barisal's Babuganj upazila. Yesterday, at least five people were killed and 23 others were injured in a head-on-collision between a bus and a truck at Konabari in Kamarkhand upazila of Sirajganj district. We accept that if we have vehicles on the road accidents will happen, but most of the accidents that occur so frequently on our roads and highways are quite avoidable.
Reportedly, the annual road crash deaths per capita in Bangladesh are twice the average rate for high-income countries and five times that of the best-performing countries in the world. Road accidents have actually taken the form of a pandemic in this country. It may sound like a strange comparison, but road accidents have taken more lives in the month of January, considering the seven-day average, than Covid-19 in the same month. According to the Road Safety Foundation (RSF), in January 2021 alone, as many as 484 people were killed and 673 injured in 427 road accidents across Bangladesh—a 25.58 percent rise year-on-year. At least 445 lives were lost in 340 road accidents in January last year.
It may sound cynical, but given the state of the vehicles that we see on the roads, the degree of sense and awareness of traffic rules of the drivers, their level of proficiency, and the wanton corruption that allows untrained drivers and unfit vehicles to ply the roads—it is perhaps surprising that even more accidents do not occur. The situation has gotten so bad that when one ventures onto the highways, it is likely he/she would be petrified the entire course of the journey, continuously praying to Providence for a safe termination of their travels.
According to a World Bank report published in February 2020, Bangladesh needs to invest an estimated extra USD 7.8 billion over the next decade to halve its road crash fatalities. We fully endorse the fact that the high death rate on Bangladesh's roads is due to a chronic lack of investment in systemic, targeted, and sustained road safety programmes. Added to that are the poor control measures in issuing road permits and driver's licenses, and non-enforcement of the road traffic laws. It is time for the government to act, and not simply look away as more and more innocent lives continue to be lost on our dangerous roads.