End this massacre on our roads | Daily News


End this massacre on our roads

It was revealed at a Road Safety Symposium recently that nearly 500,000 road accidents occur annually in this country and 3,000 of these are fatal, with the injured, disabled, victims accounting for an astounding 40,000! The last decade alone saw 35,000 road deaths with eight fatal accidents per day.

A former DIG (Traffic) and Attorney-at –Law who addressed the Symposium said an estimated Rs. 30 billion loss is incurred annually as a result of road accidents which is sufficient to extend the highway between Katunayake and Wennappuwa. The University of Peradeniya’s Head of Community Medicine, Prof. Samath Dharmaratne, who also spoke at the event said more than 1,000 children under the age of seven had been victims of road accidents in the recent past and suggested improving the train service as one of the solutions to arresting the frightening trend. It was also suggested that the prison term for drunken driving be increased to 20 years RI from the current 10.

Similar discussions and seminars on the ways and means of curbing road accidents have been held down the years to no avail judging by the ever soaring number of road deaths which have become almost routine today. The latest tragedy is the harrowing deaths of three members of the same family who were travelling in a trishaw in Anuradhapura, with a fourth, the father and the breadwinner left in a critical state in hospital (the dead included the mother and eight-year-old daughter). It was only two weeks ago that the country heard about one of the worst road tragedies in recent times where 12 passengers were killed and scores injured, when a SLTB bus toppled down a precipice in Passara. It is now been revealed that the bus in question was ill maintained and due repairs not effected. The authorities should not hesitate to take the toughest action against all those responsible for this reprehensible maintenance lapse that snuffed out the lives of innocents including four children.

The incident may have already been erased from the collective memory of the public until the Grim Reaper claims the next haul of lives on our roads. Something drastic ought to be done to arrest this soaring death toll on our roads. Nothing short of the most drastic form of action should visit the culprits. What became of the Bhikkhu who ran over a 13-year-old student while driving a vehicle without a license, despite a clear Supreme Court ruling banning members of the Sangha from taking the wheel of a vehicle?

In fact, the problem should be dealt with, with the same intensity and resourcefulness as the war against terrorism by the authorities given the magnitude of the problem. After all, the casualty numbers from road accidents are as bad as the casualty rates in the war. The time has come for the authorities to pay more attention to the suitability and competence of those handling motor vehicles. Serious thought should be given to amend the existing rules governing driver licensing and the age factor.

An age ceiling should also be imposed for driving all vehicles, especially heavy vehicles. Older drivers on long haul journeys are more prone to slowed reflexes and sleepiness.

Slow and erratic reflexes also lead to road accidents as a result of poor control of vehicles. Road-worthiness of vehicles too should be assessed from time to time. Many road accidents are the result of faulty mechanisms as was revealed in connection with the ill-fated SLTB bus.

Many accidents also occur on well laid out strips that invite fast driving. Paradoxically, it appears that development and upgrading of our road systems has in the process led to an increase in the number of road accidents and loss of lives. Significantly, while ‘carpeting’ of roads has proceeded, very little road-widening has been done even though the sheer number of vehicles has doubled in recent decades.

In addition, vehicles of old vintage and rickety jalopies should be put off the road, since they are prone to mechanical defects than new vehicles, resulting in accidents. Fitness tests should be made compulsory for all drivers of motor vehicles at regular intervals to avoid disaster, since, as is commonly known, those addicted to alcohol display symptoms that are not conducive to steady manoeuvering.

Private buses, no doubt, are the worse culprits when it comes to road discipline and have lived up to their dubious tag of being ‘killers on wheels’. According to the Chairman of the All Island Private Bus Owners’ Association Gemunu Wijeratne, nearly one third of all private bus drivers in the Western Province are drug addicts. Need one say more?

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