Road traffic accidents on the rise | Sunday Observer

Road traffic accidents on the rise

9 December, 2018
Dr. Achala Jayatilleke handing over the translation to Dr. Patanjali Dev Nayar
Dr. Achala Jayatilleke handing over the translation to Dr. Patanjali Dev Nayar

While the number of road accidents in Sri Lanka is on the rise, the actual numbers stay hidden due to under reporting. More than 187,000 minor injuries and 500,000 property damage would have gone unnoticed during the 10-year-period from 2003 to 2013. It could be more for the past five years, estimating the data of fatalities and grievous injuries. This was revealed at the launch of a guide book for journalists reporting on road safety and a workshop at the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) last week.

The translations of the book, Reporting on Road Safety: a guide for journalists - in Sinhala and Tamil was enabled by the collaboration of the SLMA and the Institute for Violence and Injury Prevention (IVIP) and the patronage of the Disability, Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Unit of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) South East Asia Regional Office (SEARO).

Senior Lecturer of the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM), University of Colombo, Dr. Achala Jayatilleke, instrumental in translating the book into the two vernacular languages spoke about the contribution of journalists in the reduction of road accidents. Journalists can do much by creating awareness of the consequences of accidents, he said. Over 90 % deaths from road accidents occur within the vulnerable road user category; namely; pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and three wheeler users. According to Traffic Police statistics for the past year, road accidents had claimed eight to nine lives and gravely injured nearly 25 people every day. Seventy-five percent of the injured and dead are those who were in the prime of their lives, between 15 and 45 years of age and mostly males, he said. Road accidents leave a huge burden on the families and immediate communities as well as the public, as most who injure or die are main bread winners of the families, said Dr. Jayatilleke.

According to Dr. Jayatilleke, only the fatalities and grave injuries get recorded, either at hospitals or with the Police. Due to time consuming procedures people tend not to report minor injuries and property damage to the police. They prefer to settle the matter among themselves. The, 2003 decision of insurance companies to abolish the requirement of a police report when compensating damages from accidents, was another reason behind this trend, he said.

In Sri Lanka, the data for minor injuries and damage through road accidents show a downward trend due to under reporting, contrary to the actual happenings at ground level. While all fatalities get recorded with the police, data on grave accidents are close to accurate as 95% of the seriously injured get admitted to government hospitals.

Projections based on these data had shown a huge anomaly between the reported number of road accidents and the actual numbers which could have been reported.

Dr. Patanjali Dev Nayar, Regional Advisor, Disability, Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation, WHO-SEARO drew the attention of the audience to the parity between the low, middle and high income countries and the death rates from road accidents. Though the high income countries account for 46% of the global vehicle fleet, only 10% of fatalities there. Middle and low income countries with 54% of vehicles account for 90 % of global deaths from road accidents. Sri Lanka has a higher death rate by road accidents with 17.4 % deaths per 100,000 persons.

Though there are many reasons why the number of vehicles plying on the roads increase road accidents, the reality is contrary, said Dr. Nayar.

The road conditions and the condition of the vehicle, traffic rules and regulations, improper implementation of traffic regulations; non availability of emergency health facilities are some of the reasons for road accidents. It is estimated that in 2030, road traffic injuries will become the first cause of death for those between the ages of 15 to 45. This is the reason for the UN to address the problem through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The target is to bring the numbers down by 50% by 2020. Proper construction and maintenance of roads, creating segregated lanes for varied kinds of vehicles, ensuring the quality of the vehicles imported and proper execution of law and order would pave the way for decreasing the number of traffic accidents as well as fatalities. Improving health facilities and availability and awareness creation with relation to first aid measures would help reduce the number of fatalities from road accidents, said Dr. Nayar.

The best method to follow in curtailing accidents is to create a culture of road safety among the population. Use of cellular phones and alcohol are two very important aspects to address when it comes to creating a culture of responsible and safe road use, among communities.

The Traffic Police recently being equipped with state of the art breath test kits had managed to take drunked drivers to task this year, said SSP Indika Hapugoda of the Traffic Police. The number of drunk driver detections during the first 10 months of 2018 (84,574) was higher than the total number of detections last year (72,819).

A pilot study is being conducted at the Nugegoda, Dehiwela – Mount Lavinia, Gampaha and Kelaniya divisions by the Traffic Police to reduce road traffic accidents. They would use improved information technology (IT) facilities to map out the black spots where a high number of accidents occur. Improving public transport facilities, road conditions and parking spaces; black listing of errant drivers; and implementing a proper licensing mechanism are a few other corrective measures proposed to reduce the number of road accidents.

Senior Lecturer of the Ruhuna Medical Faculty, Dr. Clifford Perera, and veteran journalists Mohan Samaranayake, Nalaka Gunawardene and Tissa Premasiri also spoke.

Pix. by Siripala Halwala