Seven road fatalities per day | Sunday Observer

Seven road fatalities per day

Sri Lankans today are more likely to meet their end on the country’s roads than falling prey to a critical illness or grave crime. In 2017 while 616 people died due to homicides, a shocking 3147 motorists met with their deaths due to road accidents making homicide numbers pale in comparison. According to the Sri Lanka Police traffic division, an average of seven fatalities are recorded daily.

As statistics of fatalities continue to rise, the Police and relevant authorities are currently struggling to curb the large number of senseless accidental deaths. Experts in the field say that while the majority of deaths which often occur due to human error or sheer carelessness are avoidable and preventable, the country should go beyond law enforcement to introduce better road infrastructure, modern public transportation as well as tougher regulations to address the issue.

According to the Police, most deaths occur due to unnecessary speed and careless driving on the part of motorists. Among those most at risk are motorcyclists and three wheelers which make up the majority of the fatalities.

A former DIG Traffic and Road Safety Camillus Abeygunawardena says the cause is the phenomenal increase of unsafe motor vehicles.

“The current trend is that people opt for various forms of unsafe vehicles such as mopeds, three wheelers, motorcycles and cars with low engine capacity” he says. In 2017, a total of 4044010 and 1139524 motorcycles as well as three wheelers respectively were newly registered with the Department of Motor Traffic.

According to Abeygunawardena, public now often opt for such methods of transportation due to a lack of efficient and convenient modes of public transport. As he points out, the lack of a modern public transport system and underdeveloped road infrastructure makes a deadly combination resulting in horrendous consequences of road trauma. Abeygunawardena’s opinion is endorsed by the National Council for Road Safety (NCRS) formed to promote safe mobility.

According to a spokesman of the NCRS, while internationally road engineering solutions are looked at to minimise the impact of road accidents and fatalities, Sri Lanka is yet to focus on these modern concepts.

“Here sometimes we find motorists dead in ditches as a result” he says adding that, however, changing the colour of the pedestrian crossings is a first step towards introducing road engineering solutions to the country. Abeygunawardena says many of the serious accidents can be avoided with the reduction of road conflict situations by improving road infrastructure.

The lessening of accidents on Galle road following the construction of the Southern Expressway is a prime example of this. “Sri Lankan roads have mixed traffic which leads to accidents as vehicles moving at different speeds all must travel on the same road” he explains.

But with faster vehicles motorists can now can opt for expressways and this can help lessen fatalities on regular roads.

According to the NCRS, they have also identified a large number of issues contributing to the fatalities that keep rising. As a result, they have introduced new regulations to ensure safety for motorcycle and three-wheel users.

“For example, new three-wheelers being brought to the country must have seat belts while it is now illegal to sell helmets without the SLS certification,” the NCRS spokesman said, adding that they also managed to convince three wheeler manufacturers to make important design changes to improve vehicle safety.

The NCRS has also been conducting a large number of awareness campaigns, mainly aimed at school children under its National Programme for Road Safety.

“We install road signs in these schools to familiarise the future generation with road traffic signs as a research by the University of Moratuwa found that 75 out of 100 adults could not identify them” the spokesman said, adding that many other awareness programmes are also being carried out by the Council.

However, Abeygunawardena says the many awareness campaigns to educate the public are not being conducted in a systematic manner while law enforcement too has failed the public. “Law enforcement has not kept up with the times” he says.

According to him, rather than taking a large number of cases it is far more important to create a perception among the motorists that the Police are constantly vigilant and they will be brought to book if found to be offending.

He says law enforcement must be mobile and introduce unmarked cars and Policemen in civvies for the purpose. “You need to have these techniques to keep drivers alert to the fact that they are being watched” he says. Abeygunawardena believes it is not the number of detections that matter to bring down the number of road accidents and deaths but this perception of being watchful the Police creates.

While in 2017, though the Sri Lanka Police Traffic Division brought in a record revenue of Rs. 2415 million through fines, the increased number of road fatalities only goes on to prove Abeygunawardane’s premise.

Therefore, experts believe that mobile law enforcement along with stricter regulations could reduce the number of fatal accidents on the country’s roads. In 1999 during his tenure as DIG Traffic and Road Safty, Abeygunawardena had suggested the introduction of the Driver Improvement Points System (DIPS) commonly found the world over today.

Through the system drivers are awarded demerit points for offences according to their gravity. Once a driver accumulates a certain number of points the licence is suspended, with him having to attend retraining classes to regain his driving license.

However, despite the many efforts of succeeding DIGs of Traffic to implement the system it has never come to fruition in Sri Lanka.

Experts opine that the system needs to be implemented immediately as it will act as a deterrent to careless drivers. The system established in Singapore from 1983 has ensured the country has some of the safest roads in the region.

However, while the issues are many Abeygunawardena says that these issues are not being addressed by the Government, highway authorities and the Police. “Successive governments have not given the road transport and traffic management the due importance” he said.

Police sources say, the Police hierarchy failing to appoint a dedicated DIG Traffic almost seven months since the former DIG Traffic Chula De Silva retired is an example of this disinterest. The division is now left to an Acting DIG who is also tasked with overseeing other areas leaving the Traffic Division with less attention than is needed.

“This is why I said due importance is not being given” Abeygunawardena reiterates explaining that Traffic Management is a specialised field.

According to him, it is the failure to realise its importance and act accordingly has resulted in the serious predicament the country is in leaving many innocents to fall victims to road accidents today.