Zooming road crashes: Who is to blame? | Sunday Observer

Zooming road crashes: Who is to blame?

Day: Feb 6, 2017. Sixty eight year old Indranee Soyzsa, a housewife in Ratmalana, on her way to the market, never got to her destination. She was run over by a speeding bus and pronounced dead on admission to the Panadura hospital.

In late December alone during the festive season , at least three major accidents were reported where several persons were injured and killed. One was a small van packed with 19 persons heading from Samanthurai to Colombo, which collided with a private bus loaded with pilgrims heading from Somawathiya in Polonnaruwa. That same week four persons were crushed to death under a tipper carrying sandbags along the Kandy-Colombo road at Nelundeniya, Werahepitiya.

A breakdown of accidents islandwide in 2015 showed that despite various interventions the numbers keep soaring to new heights which peaked in 2015/16. Police sources have said, 2,700 deaths from crashes were recorded in 2015 – 300 more than in 2014. That means, an average of 7.5 people died on the roads each day – a jump from 6.6 the previous year.


Road accidents can happen for many reasons. The single thread that bonds their victims is the untimely nature of their deaths. The needless suffering to their relatives, especially, in the case of sole breadwinners, economic loss in terms of manpower to the country as a whole, and the severe burden of treating them free of charge in state hospitals are points to consider. Just last week, Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said, 215 had died of unidentified vehicle accidents in 2015/16 and 400 seriously injured. He blamed non implementation of safety networks and the poor state of our roads as major contributory causes, adding that negligent pedestrians who violated traffic regulations when using the roads were also to blame.

Multiple studies carried out on road accidents in Asian countries have also underlined similar causes.

One study by NCBI estimated that in 2005, approximately 2,300 people died in Sri Lanka due to road traffic crashes, approximately 300,000 injured in non-fatal crashes and approximately 140,000 received care for their injuries at hospitals. It also noted that the incidence of road crash injuries has been steadily rising for several years.

Categorizing the victims according to age , the same study stated, although young adults are at high risk in non-fatal crashes, the elderly have the highest death rate. Pedestrians and cyclists account for more than half of all road traffic deaths, and riders of motorised two-wheelers accounted for an additional 13%.

Global study

Road accident injuries are the leading cause of death among young people aged 15- 29. Every year, the lives of approximately 1.25 million people are cut short as a result of a road traffic crash. Between 20 and 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries, with many incurring a disability as a result of their injury. Age wise, people between 15 and 44 years account for 48% of global road traffic deaths. Gender wise , it has been found that from a young age, males are more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes than females. About three-quarters (73%) of all road traffic deaths occur among men. Among young drivers, young males under the age of 25 years are almost 3 times more likely to be killed in a car crash than young females. Global research showed that 90% of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately half of the world’s vehicles. Half of those dying on the world’s roads are “vulnerable road users”: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

The frightening conclusion arrived at is that without action, road traffic crashes are predicted to rise to become the 7th leading cause of death by 2030.

So how can we prevent them by introducing lane driving and stiffer penalties?

Sri Lankan Police say, they have already taken steps to avert such needless deaths. But, it still needs the involvement of multiple sectors (transport, Police, health , education and community vigilant societies ) in order to properly address such a daunting issue as a high ranking Police officer has pointed out.

According to him, effective interventions include, designing safer infrastructure and incorporating road safety features into land-use and transport planning; improving the safety features of vehicles; and improving post-crash care for victims of road crashes. Interventions that target road user behaviour are equally important, such as, setting and enforcing laws relating to key risk factors, and raising public awareness.

Raod accident prevention unit

An increase in average speed is directly related, both, to the likelihood of a crash occurring and to the severity of the consequences of the crash.

An adult pedestrian’s risk of dying is less than 20% if struck by a car at 50 km/h and almost 60% if hit at 80 km/h. 30 km/h speed zones can reduce the risk of a crash and are recommended in areas where vulnerable road users are common, like residential and school areas.

Apart from reducing road traffic injuries, lower average traffic speeds can have other positive effects on health outcomes (e.g. reducing respiratory problems associated with car emissions).



Drinking and driving increases both, the risk of a crash and the likelihood that death or serious injury will result.

The risk of being involved in a crash increases significantly above a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.04 g/dl.

Laws that establish BACs of 0.05g/dl or below are effective in reducing the number of alcohol-related crashes. Enforcing sobriety checkpoints and random breath testing can lead to reductions in alcohol-related crashes of about 20% and have shown to be very cost-effective.

Young and novice drivers are subject to an increased risk of road traffic crashes when under the influence of alcohol, compared to older and more experienced drivers.

Laws that establish lower BACs (≤0.02 g/dl) for young and novice drivers can lead to reductions in the number of crashes involving young people by up to 24%.

Motorcycle helmets

Wearing a motorcycle helmet correctly can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%.

When motorcycle helmet laws are enforced effectively, helmet wearing rates can increase to over 90%.

Requiring helmets to meet recognized safety standards ensures that helmets can effectively reduce the impact of a collision to the head in the event of a crash.

Seat-belts and child restraints

Wearing a seat-belt reduces the risk of a fatality among front-seat passengers by 40–50% and rear-seat passengers between 25–75%.

Mandatory seat-belt laws and their enforcement have been shown to be very effective in increasing seat-belt wearing rates.

If correctly installed and used, child restraints reduce deaths among infants by approximately 70% and deaths among small children between 54% and 80%.

In this respect, it was heartening to hear Transport Minister Siripala de Silva saying that the long awaited regulations for wearing quality helmets will be enforced from April 1 this year.

Mobile phones distract drivers

The distraction caused by mobile phones can impair driving performance. Drivers using mobile phones may have: slower reaction times (notably braking reaction time, but also reaction to traffic signals), impaired ability to keep in the correct lane, and shorter following distances.

Text messaging also results in considerably reduced driving performance, with young drivers at particular risk of the effects of distraction resulting from this use.

Drivers using a mobile phone are approximately 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than when a driver does not use a phone. Hands-free phones are not much safer than hand-held phone sets.

Actions that can be taken include: adopting legislative measures, launching public awareness campaigns, and regularly collecting data on distracted driving to better understand the nature of this problem.

Traffic Police sources told the Sunday Observer, that a program had been started two years ago to educate mobile phone users at the Traffic headquarters in the Fort and the response was satisfactory .

“ It is compulsory that all offenders attend the classes personally, on a Sunday . No excuses are accepted. If they fail to attend , they will be penalized. Most offenders were young people in their early twenties and thirties, a Police spokesman said.

Studies by Epidemiology Unit on road traffic injury prevention


A publication of the weekly Epidemiological Report of September 5-11, 2009 on World Road Traffic Injury Prevention adds more enlightening facts on this issue.

It stated that crash data and other traffic research globally, had many characteristics in common; They included:

* Unnecessary travel, choice of less safe travel modes and routes, and unsafe mixes of traffic.

* Exposure to risk is increased significantly by road networks failing to route heavy traffic around populated areas, or separate pedestrians from motorized traffic.

* Excessive and inappropriate speed is widespread and may contribute to 30 % of crashes and deaths. In collisions at 80 km/h car occupants run a 20 times higher risk of being killed than at 30 k.m /h . Pedestrians have a 90% chance of surviving car crashes at 30 km/h or below, but less than a 50% chance of surviving impacts at 45 km/h or above.

* All non zero blood alcohol content levels ( BAC) carry more risk than zero BAC .

* Young novice drivers are at increased risk of crash injury. The risk among teenage drivers is higher .

* Pedestrians, cyclists are also at high risk of injury.

* For all road users the risk of crash injury is increased by failing to see and failing to be seen.

* Non use of seat belts and child restraints more than doubles the risk of serious and fatal injuries, as does motorcycle helmets.

Post crash care

The EU report concludes by commenting on a glaring gap in post crash care;

“ Inadequate post crash care is a major problem in many places. The availability and quality of such care has a substantial effect on whether a road traffic injury leads to subsequent death or disability.

Road rage and human tolerance factors are also moot points to consider when drawing up future plans for road traffic prevention,” it states.

Decade for action on road safety

So concerned was the UN General Assembly on the rising index of road accidents globally, that it passed a Resolution which proclaimed a Decade of Action for Road Safety, in May 2011-2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) is the lead agency for road safety within the UN system .

That our Lankan authorities have accepted this Resolution is a step forward. With so much ongoing development activity, and a future of more road vehicle users than ever before, the time for action, awareness raising and education from the youngest to the oldest road user must begin now- before they step onto the road tomorrow.

Seeing how our lives can end on the roads unexpectedly, tomorrow may be too late.