Preventing road accidents needs a holistic approach | Sunday Observer

Preventing road accidents needs a holistic approach

26 February, 2023

Accidents are unwanted and unintentional incidents that have become socially and economically devastating all over the world. Numerous studies have shown that traffic accidents are not only taking human lives and making people incapacitated, but they are also impacting economic performance.

Road accidents are a serious problem that affects millions of people every year. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.35 million people die in road accidents annually, and an additional 50 million are injured or disabled. The causes of road accidents are numerous and predominantly include human error, environmental factors, and vehicle malfunction.

However, in Sri Lanka, with a vehicle population of over eight million and a motorable road length of over 12,000 kilo metres, most of the road accidents that are reported constantly are caused by human error, such as distracted driving, speeding, drunk driving, and more commonly, reckless driving.

Therefore, preventing road accidents requires the serious involvement of all stakeholders, including drivers, pedestrians, policy makers, and law enforcement, and requires a versatile approach that addresses the actual reasons for accidents.

International institutions

Related studies by several international institutions suggest that the rising number of traffic accidents in Sri Lanka has a substantial impact on its economic growth and raises unwarranted costs. Particularly at this time of distress, the expenditure due to road accidents are virtually unbearable.

Since Sri Lanka is already struggling to recover from unfavourable economic conditions such as a persistent trade deficit, foreign debt, import-driven economic growth, and rising costs of living, road accidents are seen as an excessive and additional burden that will exacerbate the existing economic situation.

The World Bank estimates that road crash fatalities could cost countries such as Sri Lanka between 3 and 5 percent of their GDP annually. This is a serious national issue that has not been adequately addressed by successive governments and also by the general public, as of now.

Road accidents are a significant problem in Sri Lanka, with thousands of people being killed or injured every year. According to the Sri Lanka Police Department, there were 2,365 fatal road accidents in the country in 2021, resulting in 2,461 deaths and 5,383 serious injuries.

According to police sources, the causes of road accidents in Sri Lanka are diverse and fall into all the categories discussed earlier in the article.

Motorcycles and three-wheelers are involved in a noteworthy proportion of road accidents, with many drivers and passengers failing to wear helmets or seat belts.

Driving discipline is possibly the most significant cause of road accidents in the country. If drivers obey traffic rules and maintain a sense of responsibility while driving, the risk of accidents could be decreased substantially. Discipline is the ability to control one’s actions and behaviour to adhere to a set of rules or standards and also be conscious of others using roads simultaneously.

It is evident that most of the recently reported fatal accidents that caused multiple deaths and injuries occurred due to the recklessness of the driver. In most cases, even though the drivers are aware of the road rules, they seem to have disregarded the traffic laws. Private bus drivers, three-wheel drivers, and motorcyclists primarily fall into this category.

These errant drivers do not seem to be concerned about adhering to speed limits. They grossly ignore the fact that excessive speed increases the risk of collisions and can lead to severe injuries or fatalities. Adhering to posted speed limits is an essential aspect of responsible driving. Also, distracted driving such as using mobile phones, eating while driving, adjusting equipment, or even engaging in excessive talking with passengers can cause accidents.

Traffic laws

It is common knowledge that most drivers and riders in Sri Lanka are not adequately concerned about conforming to traffic laws. Disobeying traffic laws can have serious consequences both for the individual driver and for others using the roads, including pedestrians.

Disobedience to or ignoring the traffic laws can increase the risk of accidents. For example, running a red light or stop sign can lead to a collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian. Speeding can also increase the likelihood of an accident, as drivers may not have enough time to react to unexpected hazards or obstacles in the road, which can lead to serious injuries or fatalities.

If a driver is speeding or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may not be able to react quickly enough to avoid a collision. Also, in such situations, the driver may face legal consequences, including criminal charges in some cases.

Throughout the past few decades, the authorities have made various attempts to address this grave issue by bringing in various solutions and introducing new traffic rules and laws. It is evident, however, that none were effective enough to reduce the accidents and fatalities. In fact, despite all the efforts, the number seems to be growing further.

The experts are of the view that education and awareness programs are essential to preventing road accidents. It is critical to educate the public on the dangers of reckless driving, speeding, and drunk driving.

Staggering expenditure

More importantly, the staggering expenditure the Government has to dispense on the health, legal, and social consequences of accidents is an intolerable burden on taxpayers’ funds that can be otherwise utilised for public welfare. Therefore, programs should target both drivers, pedestrians, and police officers and emphasise the importance of following traffic rules and regulations.

Moreover, the public should be made aware of the consequences of violating traffic rules, such as fines, imprisonment, or loss of driving licences, through constant and relentless campaigns to prevent further escalation.

Effectively enforcing laws appears to be the more effective strategy for Sri Lankan drivers, as they continue to disobey the laws shamefully.

When observing patiently, one can recognise hundreds of traffic law breakers in the country’s urban and suburban areas. They concentrate on traffic rules only when the police officers are present on the roads.

Hence, urging drivers and riders to obey traffic laws is a critical strategy to prevent road accidents. The Government should increase traffic enforcement efforts and strictly enforce traffic laws. Traffic cameras, speed detectors, and more checkpoints can be used to enforce traffic rules and regulations.

Increased penalties

Additionally, increased penalties for traffic violations are a must and can serve as a deterrent for reckless driving and speeding. Regrettably, in Sri Lanka, almost every time the administration attempts to increase penalties, private bus drivers, in particular, go on fierce trade union actions instead of abiding by the laws.

Perhaps, Sri Lanka is the only democracy that allows trade unions to defy the stipulated law.

Promoting safe driving practices is another strategy to prevent road accidents. The Government and responsible institutions such as the police and both conventional and social media should encourage safe driving practices through education and awareness campaigns.

In Sri Lanka, community involvement is at its best “when” an accident occurs, and everyone supports victims selflessly. However, like in developed countries, community involvement is more crucial in preventing road accidents than post-accident assistance.

Communities should be encouraged to take ownership of road safety and work together with Government agencies to implement road safety initiatives.

Community members can assist in educating the public, enforcing traffic rules, and reporting road hazards.

In conclusion, preventing road accidents requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses the root causes of accidents and involves all stakeholders. Education and awareness, enforcing traffic laws, improving road infrastructure, promoting safe driving practices, improving vehicle safety, encouraging public transportation, improving emergency response, and community involvement are all critical strategies to prevent road accidents.