It is very much true that faulty vehicles, untrained drivers, careless commuters, insufficient pedestrian crossings and last but not least - ‘ignorance’ of road users are the fundamental causes of road accidents frequently leading to fatalities.Squarely blaming drivers for road accidents is a one-sided story and there has been little or no in-depth study to find out the causes that lead to fatalities which is the other side. Some study blamed inefficiency of drivers, others poor condition of vehicles – large and small, and yet some others on the poor maintenance of roads.
But nobody wants to shoulder or share the burden of resolving the issue although there are many areas where individuals, groups, organisations, private and public companies can join hands with the government to bring about a social change that is so essential in bringing down fatalities and casualties on the roads and highways. Blame game is in such a high pitch that even the government machineries are often scared to tell the truth about taking action against defaulters.
Suggestions, recommendations, opinions have been given through various platforms, laws have been framed, administrative orders have been given but still fatal accidents continue to occur. Why? Because none of the experts, think-tanks and the like tried to see the problem introspectively from ground zero; none of them tried to understand the crux of the problem from social and moral point of view of drivers; none of them considered the psychological and physiological influence on a juvenile learning the trade of driving as a profession in this increasingly competitive market.
The light and heavy vehicle drivers of the country are mostly illiterate and self-trained. They learn the basics of driving at a very young age as apprentice of full fledged drivers. With no formal education they quickly grasp the fundamentals of vehicle maintenance like changing tyres, engine oil, air filters and similar tasks by the time these youngsters complete their teens. Eventually these children deprived of their childhood charms, education, affection, sports and games, go on to become full drivers – often just past their teens. They emerge as ‘self-made’ men.
These apprentice drivers work their way every single inch as they cannot afford to pay any institution to learn driving. They are mostly ignorant of the ‘correct’ way of driving, how and when to overtake vis-à-vis dangers of over speeding in highways, dangers of overtaking in ‘blind spot’ turnings, dangers of taking calculated risks while overtaking, etc. Because they learn driving without any professional help, these self-learned drivers needs only a bit of guidance and motivation to learn the fundamentals of driving as a large portion of their training had already been achieved through their teachers - ‘ustads’ and at ‘no cost to the state or the society’ . If they don’t know how to read or write – they do know how to browse, find out the right addresses and understand the Bangla written in English alphabets in their mobile phones. With Bangla audio and interactive video lessons the ‘self made’ drivers can be taught the dos and don’ts of driving. In this way the laws governing driving and the penalties that goes with disobedience becomes clearer. No third person can misinterpret the governing laws and thus mayhem resulting from misunderstanding will be less as a result.For example, according to The Highway Code handbook of UK, the overall stopping distance of a light vehicle travelling at 50 mph will be 175 ft., where the thinking distance will be 50 ft. and the braking distance 125 ft. These statistics have been reached after prolonged experiments and are considered reliable driving guidelines. Similar statistical knowledge can be imparted to the amateur drivers for practical purposes and thus the dangers of racing, not allowing others to overtake by driving precariously or by parking in a very odd manner resulting in unnecessary traffic jam or driving off-road to jump queues would be less frequent. If high penalty is imposed for obstruction, driving at high speed or jumping queues then it is believed that the untrained drivers will understand the wrongs and control their adrenalin rush as a step towards ‘social responsibility’.
Drivers are in great demand both at home and abroad. Instead of demonising them it would be prudent to support initiatives at enhancing their acquired skill and sharpen it with knowledge and strengthen it with morality for advancement of the society.
Third party insurance
The general insurance sector is yet another side of the sad story of road accident victims not being compensated although ‘Third Party Insurance’ is mandatory under The Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983 substituted be the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 1988 (Act No. XXVII of 1988).
According to the Act, the First Party is the Insurance company, Second Party is the insurer or the owner of the vehicle and Third Party is the victim of an accident whether on board or wayside or not. But insurance companies are not known to have compensated accident victims for loss of life, damage to limbs or even damage to property.
In case of fatal accidents, the insurance companies always manage to find loopholes in the law to avoid payment of any compensation. Moreover third party ‘victims’ and their heirs are mostly unaware of their right to be compensated. This gaping hole in the legal system gives rise to corrupt practices involving government as well as private agencies. As a result of such inaction, the court often has to interfere in matters of public interest and passes judgement. And that too compelling the second party – vehicle owners – to compensate accident victims instead of directing insurance companies – the first party to pay compensation to the victims.
The workers’ trade unions and owners’ trade unions although quite different in nature and stature but due to common interest sharing both compliment each other. Trade Unions outside the capital are the worst sufferers. It’s like “... you scratch my back, I scratch yours...” The transport workers being mostly uneducated their demands naturally are adequate wages, reasonable working hours and mutually acceptable holidays on broad terms. The owners, on the other hand, on the apprehension that their profit may declines if the demands of the workers are met tends to seek out ‘alternative’ solutions like ...”we save you from the gallows.. you fill our coffers...”. That’s when contract driving enters the scene and those who work on monthly wages are hardly given sufficient resting time. This exploitation of the workers by the employers should no longer be approved by authorities in the government.
Risky overtaking and over speeding
In Bangladesh most of the fatal road accidents occur while taking calculated risks during overtaking. The drivers swerve from one direction to the other while overtaking with inches to spare. The minimum miscalculation in angle or misjudgement in speed results in catastrophe. Why? because most of the time, the vehicle being overtaken and the vehicle coming from the opposite direction never slows down but on the contrary, taking it as a matter of prestige, presses down on the accelerator leaving little room for the overtaking vehicle to manoeuvre. And hence the reason why most of the road accidents occur head-on or in some cases, the faint hearted drives off the road to nearby ditches. These are caused by rush of adrenalin and sometimes boosted by energy-like drinks. In the case of the driver being overtaken, his mind already clouded by nausea, fatigue thinks to himself – “Why the hell should I slow down to let him pass ....he must gather more speed than me for overtaking.....?” – of the driver travelling from the opposite direction..” he is occupying the whole road as if the highway belongs to his ....” and the overtaking driver without understanding that he has already annoyed two other drivers and was taking considerable risk not worth taking...”these two shall pay for it heavily once I complain to my boss....” these are some of thoughts that crosses their mind and stories of this nature abounds in the inter district truck or bus resting places beside highways.
Most of the heavy vehicle drivers of the country are ‘unaware’ of the golden rule of driving: “...never drive in such a way and speed that it jeopardises or endangers the lives of others on board and or on the streets...”.
This warning is not heeded because it is not properly explained and drivers who are supposed to abide by this warning have little or no understanding of the consequences resulting in frequent fatal accidents. A passenger loaded bus plies the highways at more than 100 mph and fully loaded trucks also does not lag behind. These speedy projectiles are not easy to stop or slow down so the alternative is to swing and swerve like playing video gaming machines – “What is plaything for some, are death to others...”
The British Highway Code warns the pedestrians, among others: “You must not - loiter on any type of pedestrian crossing; - walk on motor ways or their slip roads; - proceed along or across the carriageway when given a direction to stop by a police constable engaged in controlling traffic; - without lawful authority or reasonable cause, hold on to or get on a motor vehicle or trailer in motion........
It is believed that the harsh conditions of working hours, holidays and shrinking pay packets takes a heavy toll on the lives of drivers which could be addressed respectfully. The self trained drivers do not wish to be categorised as ‘killer machines’. Their fear is that if they start defying the owners who are very powerful in the society as well as the government, the consequences will not be at all good. Moreover government agencies might victimise them through administrative means. The pay cheques, holidays, working hours are of primary importance. Once these problems are taken care of then, it is believed, self trained drivers will no longer feel as ‘out castes’ in the society.
Pedestrians do not lag far behind. They will jump over road-dividers, squeeze through iron rail road separators, and walk on flyover roads, cross roads very casually with their ears full of gadgets. In similar situation, when accidents happen on railroad tracks the consequences are known to all who read the newspapers.
The writer is a senior journalist.
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