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Nepal’s road safety measures in focus

Nepal’s road safety measures in focus

Understanding road safety involves more than just following traffic rules; it signifies a profound commitment to saving lives, protecting families, supporting economic growth, and achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This broader perspective emphasizes the positive impact that prioritizing road safety can have on the society as a whole. The sobering reality, highlighted by the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2023, indicates a slight decrease in annual road traffic deaths to 1.19m. This suggests that ongoing efforts to enhance road safety are yielding results, emphasizing the potential for significant reductions in fatalities through the application of proven measures. Notably, road crashes stand as the primary cause of death among children and young adults aged five to 29, with vulnerable road users constituting more than half of global road traffic fatalities.

Despite endeavors to improve road safety, the toll of mobility remains disproportionately high, particularly among pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Road crashes not only pose a human tragedy and a major public health concern but also impose substantial socioeconomic burdens, especially on impoverished communities. Collective economic costs of road traffic fatalities and injuries in LMICs range from two to six percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). In response to this pressing reality, the UN General Assembly initiated the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030, urging governments, organizations and individuals to prioritize road safety measures.

Toward safer roads

Through awareness drives and policy reforms, Nepal is striving to cultivate a more responsible and conscientious approach to road usage. In 2022, the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport published a 

‘Nepal Road Safety Action Plan (2021-2030)’, reflecting concerted efforts to address road safety issues. Activities of the Kathmandu Valley Traffic Police Office like the ‘Traffic Awareness Special Campaign-2081’ exemplify this commitment. The focal ministry of road safety is the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, which collaborates with various ministries such as the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, and the Ministry of Health and Population. Among them, the home ministry has played a pivotal role in spearheading enforcement initiatives to enhance road safety. The ‘Traffic Awareness Special Campaign-2081’, launched in April, aimed to cultivate a more civilized road culture through heightened awareness among the public. Furthermore, the ministry has announced plans for special operations geared toward enhancing the reliability and safety of public transportation.

Helmet safety and beyond

Helmet use is mandatory for both riders and pillion riders according to the Vehicle and Transport Management Act 2049 BS. Ensuring road safety involves various elements, but prioritizing low-cost, high-yield enforcement measures is crucial. Among these interventions, helmet safety stands out as paramount, especially considering that motorcycles account for over 80 percent of vehicles and pose the highest risk on the roads. The importance of wearing helmets, particularly for bikers and pillion-riders, cannot be overstated. Head trauma remains a leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents, yet quality helmets can significantly reduce the risk of fatalities by over six times and decrease the likelihood of brain injuries by up to 74 percent.

The dedication of Nepal Police in enforcing helmet safety regulations is admirable, despite resource constraints. However, effective enforcement requires strong support from various stakeholders, including the home ministry, health ministry, civil society organizations, professional networks and development partners.

Global efforts

Road safety is not solely a concern for Nepal; it’s a global imperative. According to WHO, the majority of road traffic fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries, with the highest fatality rates observed among low-income countries, at 21 deaths per 100,000 population. This underscores the urgent need for international cooperation and solidarity. Road crashes have caused immense loss of human lives and hindered economic growth and sustainable development in Nepal. The number of casualties from road crashes has surged from 1,131 in 2008 to 2,789 in 2018, marking a staggering increase of 146.6 percent. The economic toll of road traffic injuries, with treatment costs and loss of productivity, amounts to an estimated three percent of annual GDP for many countries.

For instance, Nepal can draw valuable lessons from Thailand’s approach to post-crash care management. Under the Ministry of Interior’s National Directing Center for Road Safety, alongside the Ministry of Public Health and other road safety foundations, Thailand has implemented key activities to reduce its fatality burden, including leadership and networking, data integration and policy advocacy, and strengthening post-crash response.

Key change agents

The state of road safety in Nepal faces numerous challenges, with one of the primary issues being the limited capacity of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC) to serve as the lead agency for road safety, crucial for implementing the National Road Safety Action Plan (NRSAP 2021-2030). NRSC serves as the central coordinating body with the aim of reducing accidents and promoting safer roads nationwide. Its primary function is to foster coordination among various agencies and spearhead the implementation of safety measures. Also, the Road Safety Society Nepal, is dedicated to fostering a safe driving culture across the country. As a national nonprofit organization, it plays a vital role in facilitating the development of effective road safety practices through a range of initiatives. However, there is a pressing need for further innovative and participatory engagements to amplify its impact.

Encouragingly, private sector entities like Pathao and InDrive, tech startups revolutionizing transportation in Nepal, have begun integrating helmet safety into their policies and services. While these efforts are worthy, there is room for improvement. These companies have the opportunity to lead by example and prioritize passenger safety, particularly through the consistent use of helmets.

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