Road accidents deadlier than terrorism 

S. M. Hali

Pakistan is losing precious lives due to terror attacks but few people realize that road accidents take a higher toll of lives. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, in the last decade, Pakistan suffered a loss of 50,987 lives due to terrorism while in the same period; traffic accidents claimed 130,000 lives. Thus while every effort is being made to counter terrorism, from negotiations with the TTP to surgical strikes and now the ongoing Military Operation Zarb-e-Azb to root out terrorists from North Waziristan, little or no attention is being paid to eradicate the menace of road accidents.

Some analysts quote the figures for road accidents in the Occident being even higher. The number of deaths owing to traffic accidents in the USA in 2012 was 34,080. The main cause for road accidents in the west is drunken driving but the authorities are not oblivious to the threat it poses and spare no effort in educating their citizens regarding the hazards of drunken driving, maintain a high vigil for checking reckless driving and also pay a lot of attention to road conditions including through snow, rain or sleet storms.

There is a dire need for the authorities to educate the Pakistani nation regarding road safety. First of all driving licenses must be issued only after thorough testing and gauging not only driving skills but also the familiarization with traffic rules, right of way and methods to negotiate hazardous driving conditions. Medical fitness is an essential criterion for the issuance as well as renewal of driving licenses and the minimum standards of health must be adhered to strictly. Issuing driving licenses without testing through bribery or use of references, must cease forthwith.

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It is vital to take up the cudgels for road safety, which starts with the awareness programs for citizens, while driving and even for pedestrians. The government as well as public service organizations can make concerted efforts to educate people that unjustifiable mishaps can be controlled through strict observance of rules, good driving behavior, proper education and enhanced level of awareness about hazards of accidents, traffic rules, respect for law and fellow humans and sense of responsibility.

The problem must be dealt with by incorporating the support of the Traffic and Motorway Police, professional researchers, media and academia to conduct extensive research on causes of road accidents and recommending measures to enhance road safety, prevention of road accidents and inculcating a sense of safety.

Currently, people who break traffic rules or indulge in reckless driving either go unchecked or escape punitive action by extending bribes to the traffic constable apprehending them. It is crucial to bring offenders to book so that deterrence may be set for eradicating the menace of irresponsible driving.

Besides incorporating a system of punishment, it should be ensured that drivers hauled up for breaking traffic rules or indulging in unsafe driving should have their offences recorded in their personal database, so that after exceeding a certain limit, their driving license should automatically get rescinded. Along with the scheme of punishment, rewards may also be offered for abiding by traffic rules and maintaining an accident free safety record.

Adequate attention must be given to the quality of roads; the infrastructure of which must be improved and means of quick recovery and evacuation of causalities be ensured. Along with better paved roads, focus must remain on the placement of traffic symbols for motorists, cyclists and also pedestrians. Traffic must be forced to slow down in the vicinity of educational institutions and hospitals, so that children, sick, elderly and invalid persons can safely cross the roads.

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Monitoring mechanism must be made transparent and those involved in unsafe driving should be apprehended before they end up in accidents. Monitoring cameras are being installed to deter terror attacks. The same should also be used to observe driving safety. Many drivers indulge in hazardous driving, when they are not being watched by the traffic police. Cameras should record such violations even for overloading or driving faulty vehicles or those emitting smoke and polluting the atmosphere and the culprits be prosecuted accordingly.

Media must use its good services for broadcasting and publishing public safety messages, to support the awareness campaign. Along with the consciousness regarding road safety and improving monitoring of traffic violations, adequate facilities for the timely medical attention to road accident victims can go a long way in lowering the toll of fatal casualties.

One of the biggest culprits of traffic accidents are motorcyclists, who try to weave their way through precarious gaps, endangering lives. They should be specially targeted for caution and advice. For a developing country like Pakistan, it is crucial to lay emphasis on road safety so that precious lives are not lost to this lethal threat.