It is claimed that the number of road accident fatalities in this country closely rivalled all those killed during the 30-year conflict- both civilians and combatants. This certainly could not be an exaggeration given what transpired during a Workshop on Road Safety the other day. Dr. Saman Dharmaratne senior Professor of the Peradeniya University, one of the participants, said that it has been calculated that there could be 60,000 road deaths during the next twenty years while some 400,000 are liable to be disabled. The cost to the State is estimated to be a staggering Rs. 200 billion. The academic said that so far this year out of 16,496 road mishaps, the deaths totalled 1539. He called for the immediate setting up of a Presidential Task Force to look into this grave situation. He also revealed that he had brought this situation to the attention of three past Heads of State but to no avail. Dr. Dharmarate said that 10 percent of the Health Budget went towards the treatment of accident victims in the State hospital leaving little financial resources for the treatment of other patients.
The authorities should at least now pay heed to this sound advice and get cracking on dealing with the mounting number of road accident fatalities which is continuing at an alarming rate. At the rate that deaths occur on our roads, very soon we will have lost a sizable number of our youth population adding to the numbers now migrating. We say this because according to Dr. Dharmaratne a majority of those getting killed on the roads are between the ages 18 and 20 years. He said that there was a road accident every 10 minutes in the country which certainly should make our authorities sit up and take note. In addition, he said 50 persons have lost their lives as a result of violation of traffic laws by motorists which number 1174 so far this year.
Of course, there is no knowing what action had been taken against these road fiends or if they were merely rapped on the knuckles and let off to continue in their merry way. What if the next of kin of the victims who may include non-working wives and school-going children? Had they been adequately compensated or had the errant motorists got off by the mere payment of a token sum? One recalls sometime ago a national cricketer driving under the influence of liquor knocking down and killing a private bus conductor. It was also revealed that the cricketer had consented to an out-of-court settlement by payment of a sum of money to the family. This is the wrong way of getting about things. Those who take the life of another through careless and reckless driving, particularly driving after the influence of liquor, should be made to face the full brunt of the law. If not, a bad precedent would be set whereby the rich and well-to-do individuals being afforded the license to violate the law and cause road deaths in the knowledge they could get away by payment of compensation to the families of the victims, -the parting of which in any event would not be of great loss to them. Either the law should be applied to the letter against such individuals, or, in the alternative, they should be made to financially provide for the victim families on a permanent basis or at least for a specific period until the children (if there are children involved) have reached a certain level of their education. Nothing short of this is going to provide the necessary deterrent to would-be offenders.
Not just drunk driving. There are also other reasons for the rising number of road accidents resulting from deaths. The condition of the vehicles is one such aspect. The authorities, from now on, should take steps to remove all un-roadworthy vehicles from our roads. More often than not, it is the faulty mechanisms of such rickety jalopies that lead to accidents. An age limit should also be imposed on those permitted to take the wheel. Age-driven slow reflexes could also lead to the driver losing control causing collisions. In such instances, a split-second delay could be the difference between life and death. Hence, the age factor should also be taken on board when deciding on those eligible to drive. The driver of the vehicle in the recent mishap in Kandy in which some students of Thurstan College were returning from an outing was found to be 65 years old, which tells the tale.
In fact, it is heavy vehicles that are mostly found to be involved in disastrous road accidents. These heavy vehicles are mostly those on the long haul travelling long distances throughout the night which makes their drivers fall asleep. A rule should be brought in to make such vehicles take intermittent breathers during such long-haul journeys so that the drivers could rest and resume when they are fresh and ready. This could prevent serious road mishaps and deaths. Checks should also be kept on the so called Driving Schools that are now seen in almost every street corner. While most of these could be genuine there also could among them, those engaged in dubious practices such as issuing Competent Certificates to half-baked ‘learners’ which also could result in road accidents. In fact, every avenue should be explored to arrest this alarming trend and save precious lives.