A ‘crashless’ future | Sunday Observer

A ‘crashless’ future

Today, the world will mark, World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims under the theme “Vital Post-Crash Actions: Medical Care, Investigations and Justice”. In 2013, the last year for which statistics are available, more than 1.25 million people died worldwide in vehicle crashes. Governments spend billions of dollars every year on treating and rehabilitating injured victims. It is also vital to investigate each and every serious accident – this is indeed how traffic authorities and vehicle manufacturers have added enhanced safety features over the years. Ensuring justice to victims is perhaps the most important aspect – in many cases the victims and their families suffer immensely while the perpetrator(s) go scot-free. But, no legal measure can match the power of discipline, which is essential to ensure safer roads for all.

The statistics for Sri Lanka are particularly alarming. More than 2,700 were killed and 50,000 injured in 2015. Everyday, seven people die on our roads. In fact, Sri Lanka is known as one of the countries with the deadliest roads in the world, though we are not in the top 10. That dubious honour goes to (in order) China, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Indonesia, USA, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand and Iran (World Health Organisation statistics). Note that the list is split almost evenly between countries that drive on the left and countries that drive on the right, which proves that regardless of which side of the road you drive, accidents happen. Incidentally, Sweden, a country which switched from the left to the right exactly 50 years ago, has the world’s safest roads with just three road deaths per 100,000 people, per year.

Remembrance

The World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims (WDR) is observed on the third Sunday of November each year, by an increasing number of countries in every Continent, around the world. This day is dedicated to remembering the many millions killed or injured in road crashes and their families and communities, as well as, to pay tribute to the dedicated emergency crews, police and medical professionals who daily deal with the traumatic aftermath of road death and injury.

Road deaths and injuries are sudden, violent, traumatic events, the impact of which is long-lasting, often permanent. Each year, millions of newly injured and bereaved people from every corner of the world are added to the countless millions already suffering as a result of road crash.

The burden of grief and distress experienced by this huge number of people is all the greater because, many of the victims are young, because, many of the crashes could and should have been prevented, and because, the response to road death and injury and to victims and families is often inadequate, unsympathetic, and inappropriate to the loss of life or quality of life.

Prevention

This special Remembrance Day is intended to respond to the great need of road crash victims for public recognition of their loss and suffering.

This day has also become an important tool for governments, and all those whose work involves crash prevention or response to the aftermath, since it offers the opportunity to demonstrate the enormous scale and impact of road deaths and injuries and the urgent need for concerted action to stop the carnage.

There are many factors that cause accidents – reckless driving, speeding, lack of training and experience, bad roads, bad weather, mechanically unsound vehicles, drunk or impaired driving, texting/phoning while driving, non-use of safety features including seat belts and child seats, failing to wear helmets or not securing them properly and distracted driving. The authorities can only do so much – as revamping the way licences are issued and improving road infrastructure – but most other factors apart from the weather are well within the control of motorists. Pedestrians and push cyclists too must take extra precautions at all times. They are also ‘road users’ in the broad sense of the term and are subjected to much the same rules.

Here is a perspective from an Indian analyst that explains what is wrong with the traffic systems of most developing countries: “The nation’s supreme court calls India’s roads ‘giant killers.’ Experts say that many of the accused go free because of weak and outdated motor vehicle regulations, routine corruption, lagging investigations and painfully slow court trials.” This applies equally to Sri Lanka and many other countries where the concept of justice to road traffic accident victims is often forgotten.

Rs.2,500

Strict law enforcement helps to reduce accidents and generally higher fines also have a deterrent effect. The suggested new minimum traffic violation fine of Rs.2,500 has raised a hornet’s nest, but it is a step in the right direction. The higher the fine, the bigger the chances of drivers observing road rules. Accidents are minimal in Colombo itself because of the high Police presence, traffic lights and of course, the inability to speed at any time (traffic congestion is a separate matter that has to be solved by the authorities). Speed kills – there is no doubt about it. In fact, most of the fatal accidents in Sri Lanka are reported from comparatively good roads in the outstations where drivers tend to speed even at night.

We need better training for drivers and a revamped system of issuing licences. Minimum safety regulations for vehicles must be promulgated – it was heartening to hear that authorities are planning to insist on Driver’s Airbag and Anti-lock Brakes (ABS) as a minimum for all imported and locally assembled vehicles. Almost all drivers and front seat passengers now wear seat belts and the law should be extended to the rear seats too. Such safety features help save lives most of the time. Many people also have a lackadaisical attitude towards insurance, opting only for third party insurance, regardless of the extended coverage offered by comprehensive (‘full’) insurance. The authorities should also explore the possibility of insuring drivers as opposed to the vehicle itself, which is the norm in most countries.

Driverless

Most, if not all, accidents occur as a result of human error. What if we can eliminate that altogether? This is the ultimate goal of driverless cars and smart road systems that can communicate with each other, which are slowly taking shape around the world. Robots and computer systems which never get tired or distracted, may be the answer to human drivers who are prone to making wrong judgements and crashing. This may yet happen within our lifetimes although there still are technological, ethical, legal and regulatory barriers to be overcome. Both, auto manufacturers and Governments are working on these aspects. Finally, there may not be a need to own a car anymore when one can access a driverless car and take it to whatever destination, along with autonomous public transport systems such as the proposed ultra-fast Hyperloop. These two measures could drastically reduce or even eliminate road accidents in the near future, a goal that Governments around the world would like to achieve. 

Comments

Safety on the road is greatly challenged as Heavy vehicle drivers especially Public and Private BUS Drivers plying on the road as if it is a race track with scant respect for road users. Three Wheel drivers adding to the congestion thus making the roads unsafe for innocent pedestrians and other vehicle drivers definitely justify the increased fines. But will the errant Policemen stop accepting bribes to overlook the offences by earning a hire share from the offenders negating the attempt of government? What is the detterent?