SURGE IN ROAD ACCIDENTS IN NEPAL
The bus accident in Pyuthan last week that
killed 40 people, including a newly wed groom’s has brought into sharp focus the
hazards of road travel in the country.
The incident was one among an alarmingly high number of road accidents,
resulting in a chilling death toll over the past seven months. Data compiled by
the Post, indicate that since mid-July 2004, major road accidents have claimed
at least 230 lives, not to mention hundreds of those injured. Various political
parities and civic organizations in Pyuthan, have demanded an impartial probe
into the latest accident, and warned drivers and transport entrepreneurs to see
to it that accident are not repeated out of carelessness.
The frequency of road accidents has registered a sharp rise over the past three
years. According to statistics of the Traffic Directorate under Nepal Police,
road accidents jumped 23 percent – from 4413 to 5430 – in fiscal year 2003/2004
(beginning mid-July) over the preceding fiscal year. Likewise, accidents in
fiscal year 2002/2003 rose to 4413 from 3823 in 2001/2002. Thankfully, the
number of deaths declined in 2003 and 2004 compared to preceding years.
The causes of road accidents are manifold. In the Pyuthan bus accident, for
instance, the driver was reportedly drunk, as indeed is the case in a
significant number of accidents.
Passengers have complained of inebriated drivers driving rashly. Drunkenness
coupled with treacherous roads such as ours is a fatal combination.
Urmila Sharma, 38, of Chitwan, who regularly shuttles between her home and
Kathmandu by bus, blames the drivers for accidents. She says she has witnessed
inebriated drivers driving recklessly on several occasions, and adds that even
when not drunk, they tend to drive unreasonably fast. “Every time they confront
the bends without slowing down and over take recklessly, I nearly have a heart
attack,” she said.
One way to control drunken driving could be conducting sobriety tests on
drivers, using breathalyzer. But the traffic police are yet to introduce them on
Mechanical problems, including brake failure, are other major cause of road
accidents. Monitoring vehicle condition is non-existent. Sharad Adhikari,
technical director at the Department of Transport Management, conceded that
there is no regular monitoring due to ‘logistical difficulties’. The department,
however, carries out a thorough check of vehicles before issuing route permits.
Drivers, on their part, blame the dangerously poor condition of roads and
certain circumstances that compel them to speed up for the surge in accidents.
Bal Krishna Shrestha, a bus driver on long routes for the past 13 years,
complains that roads are too narrow, prone to landslides and poorly maintained –
a burning example of which is the 36 – km Mugling-Narayanghat road.
“There may be some drivers that drink and drive, but even those who do not drink
have a tough time driving on the highway,” said Shrestha of Hetauda – 5 who
drives a Sita Yatayat bus between Kathmandu and Biratnagar. He claimed that
frequent security check and curfews along the way, force drivers to speed up, as
they are under pressure to meet an extremely tight schedule.
Director General of the Department of Roads Durga Prasad KC, admitted that
efforts so far have centered on short-term solutions. However, he claimed that
is about to change, with Japanese experts conducting an in-depth study to find a
durable solution, which will be implemented by DoR and the Department of Water
Inducted Disaster Prevention. As regards the over-stretched capacity of roads,
he said alternative routes such as the proposed Kathmandu – Hetauda fast track
were the only option.
Source: The Kathmandu Post, January 26, 2005
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