Road accidents: The hidden epidemic

Cilla Khatry

Cilla Khatry

Road accidents: The hidden epidemic

In developing countries like Nepal, motorcycles dominate the roads. Unfortunately, there is no concept of a learner’s permit or provisional license, a form of restricted license given to someone who’s learning to drive

According to the Nepal Police data, on average, seven people die and 69 are injured in road accidents in the country every day. Dan Bahadur Karki, acting spokesperson of Nepal Police, says motorbike casualties account for a large percentage of this number.

In the past week, an Armed Police Force officer died when his bike collided with a school bus. Three other people died, and four were injured in accidents in Sunsari, Saptari, and Kailali. A German national, who was headed to Kathmandu from Narayangarh, died when his motorbike was hit by a jeep. Two people, including another foreigner, suffered serious injuries.

Driver’s negligence, mechanical defects, and poor road infrastructure, including but not limited to good roads and proper signs, are the main reasons behind road accidents, says Karki. “Motorbike riders are especially prone to accidents as two-wheelers are unstable.”

Motorcycle drivers often ditch helmets, speed, drive under influence, and then they have to navigate poor roads, adds the spokesperson.

In developing countries like Nepal, motorcycles dominate the roads. According to the latest data at the Department of Transport Management, of 3.22m vehicles registered in Nepal, about 78 percent, or 2.53m, are motorcycles.

SP Sitaram Rijal says most swanky motorbikes that ply the roads in Nepal aren’t suitable for them: 125 cc bikes would be more than sufficient but there are bikes of 500 cc and greater capacity available in the market, and these are more popular among youths.

Over the years, the Nepal Police and the Metropolitan Traffic Police Department have come up with ways to reduce road accidents, from implementing strict lane discipline to the anti-drink driving campaign. These measures, though important, haven’t been enough, they say.

Deepak Tamang, the founder of Creation Driving School, says you can’t always fault the authorities or expect them to shoulder all the responsibilities. Driving, he says, is a personal thing. And when you are out on the road, you must drive safely and responsibly. “Most bikers don’t ride as much as do stunts on the road. And everyone is always in a hurry,” he says.

Suman Giri of Samyukta Driving School says the minimum age to acquire a motorbike license should be increased to 21. As of now, you can get one when you turn 16. Teenagers, he says, want to ride motorbikes as soon as they are legally allowed to. Their parents also give in to their demands and buy them whatever they choose.

“Youngsters often ride motorbikes that they can’t maneuver properly. Their feet don’t reach the ground or the bike is too heavy for them,” says Giri. The onus lies on the parents to guide their children instead of just buying them fancy motorbikes.

Tamang adds the focus should also be on learning to ride or drive properly rather than just passing the license trial exams, which is the trend right now: 75 percent of the ‘students’ enrolled at his driving school just want to get a license. Few are bothered about theoretical knowledge

and, as a result, people don’t understand even the most basic traffic rules, he says.

Worse, in Nepal, there is no concept of a learner’s permit or provisional license, a form of restricted license given to someone who’s learning to drive. In many other countries, to obtain a permit, you must pass a test. Also, you must have a learner’s permit for a certain time before you are allowed to apply for the real thing. This, Tamang says, polishes people’s driving skills in addition to giving them time to understand the rules and regulations.

“Earlier, there was a system in Nepal whereby you were required to sit for a mandatory one-hour class on traffic regulations before license collection,” says Tamang. In Nepal, having a license doesn’t mean you are equipped to ride on the road, he adds.

Pushpa Maharjan, the owner of Dev Driving Institute, says there’s also a blatant disregard for rules. Bike riders, especially, are careless—they ride in the wrong lane, overtake from the left, and squeeze their way through jeeps and buses.

The police force is strapped for manpower, according to Karki, with just one officer for 1,666 vehicles. Every day, 845 new vehicles are registered. Which is why it’s essential to develop a system to monitor traffic, adds Maharjan.

Currently, there are CCTV cameras in most hotspots but these are only used when there are accidents, to verify claims. “In reality, someone should be monitoring these 24/7, and action should be taken against those breaking the rules,” says Maharjan.

One of the main reasons why people break rules, those ApEx spoke to say, is because they think they can get away with it.

The Metropolitan Traffic Police Department (MTPD) laments that most of their prevention measures, including heavy fines, have failed to bring about the needed change in people’s attitudes. Rajendra Prasad Bhatta, the spokesperson of the department, says it’s mostly motorbike riders between the ages of 18 to 35 who are injured or die in accidents.

“There’s a sense of invincibility at that age. Adrenaline-fueled youngsters tend to race on the road,” says Bhatta. Coupled with bad roads, that is a sure shot way to disaster, he adds.

To curb this, the MTPD, in collaboration with the Nepal Red Cross and Nepal Scouts, is running awareness programs in 99 schools and colleges. It also plans to get youth volunteers involved in traffic management.

The department hopes the experience will make youths conscious of road safety. SP Rijal adds the police department has gone all out in its efforts to curb road accidents. There is, however, a lack of public and government support.

Recognizing the need to tackle the problem of road accidents, the WHO recently launched the second edition of the ‘Powered Two- and Three-Wheeler Safety Manual’. It provides guidance to help decision-makers and practitioners come up with a comprehensive set of rules and regulations needed to save lives.

With case studies and evidence, it includes recommendations on developing better roads, ensuring safer mobility for all road users, and vehicle safety standards.

“It’s going to take a collaborative effort of different government sectors—the transport department, road department, and local authorities—to curb this escalating problem,” says the Nepal Police spokesperson.

18 to 35 years – Injured or deaths

1 traffic police officer for 1,666 vehicles

845 new vehicle registration every day

In Nepal, there are 7 deaths and 69 people are injured in 57 accidents every day

The top 3 reasons for bike accidents – Driver’s recklessness, Overspeeding, Poor road infrastructure

In the past four months, Shrawan to Kartik, there have been 3,336 accidents. 

Vehicles involved – 5594, Two-wheelers – 2646

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