Nepali Times
License to kill?



5788 people lost their lives in road accidents in the last five years. Of the 40,278 injured in the same period, at least 14,175 suffered life-long disabilities. Nepal has one of the highest road fatality statistics in Asia in terms of total vehicle users.

"The main reasons are improper licensing and poor maintenance of roads and vehicles," says Binod Singh of the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division. A written exam and a basic handling test are all that is needed to obtain a license. And even this rudimentary test can be bypassed with a bribe.

"Amendments to the laws are urgent, the ability of a candidate to drive confidently on an actual road should be a key factor," says Singh. "The laws we have now are 25 years old, and we will have to wait for the new constitution."
Under-secretary at the Office of Transport Management Tej Raj Pande concurs: "A proper driving test would save lives but there is no space to carry them out."

Vehicle No. in Bagmati Zone Accident rate
Microbus 2583 1 in 11
Bus/minibus 10872 1 in 26
Truck and mini-truck 12448 1 in 57
Car, jeep, van 85524 1 in 106
Tempos 5300 1 in 118
Motorcycle 374447 1 in 370
Tractor 1729 1 in 173

Syakar Company's recently opened safety riding training centre in Lalitpur for two-wheelers could help with awareness and training.

"People with licenses are enrolled in beginners as well as defensive classes, and our aim is to give riders the confidence to use their vehicles safely," says Mandip Regmi, Chief Riding Instructor at Syakar.

The government, too, is getting in on the act. The Metropolitan Traffic Police Division is giving drivers a course in road rules, traffic signs, and passenger and pedestrian behaviour. But despite requests to all members of the Transportation Association, only ill-starred Swayambhu Yatayat, whose buses have been involved in a number of fatal accidents, has signed up.

The traffic police also plan to extend traffic safety education programmes to college students, who comprise a significant portion of two-wheeler drivers. A dedicated FM radio with traffic information is planned.

But it doesn't help that there is no effective system in place to punish traffic offenders. Traffic police are only allowed to fine offenders Rs 25-200. The Vehicle Management Office can fine offenders between Rs 1000 and Rs 5000, but a carefully placed bribe usually precludes cases getting to that stage. More serious offences are more likely to be left to mob rule and an informal, often illogical system of compensation whereby 'big pays small', whatever the circumstances of the accident.

And then there are highway accidents, where other factors like dangerous, steep mountain roads, poor condition of vehicles and overloading cause a major loss of life.

The majority of those who lose their lives in road accidents are aged 15-40. The loss of such a productive demographic should add urgency to road safety efforts.

1. Ragnhild
If people learnt to walk on the right hand side, instead of the left, I think quite a few lives would be spared. People would see the vehicle coming closest to them (i.e on their side) and the drivers would see whether the pedestrians had seen them or not and  be able adjust the driving/speed accordingly. In my home country we drive on the right hand side of the road and almost the first thing kids learn about traffic rules etc is that "you should walk on the the left side of the road". I have done quite a bit of driving here in Nepal and it's very obvious that most people here seem to think you should walk on the same side as you are driving. I don't know how many times I have horned at someone and they have turned around to see what is coming, and doing so, unknowingly, "fallen" even further out on the road! Why not put a 20 s notice about this in TV? That would probably save at least a few lives every year.

2. rishav
Very interesting article. I am glad you brought the issue of fining on the spot motorist for bad driving behaviour which must be extremely difficult in Kathmandu and other metropolitan cities. Inorder for people to change their bad driving habits I believe on the spot driving fines is the way to go. Most Police forces in the World have a data base for traffic violation offenses for drivers and vehicles which could be very useful in Nepal if not already used. The police could set up a random check system at various notorious junctions with the back up of armed police if things got out of hand. They would be able to give on the spot fine tickets taking the picture of the vehicle and driver as well logging these details onto the data base and if the fine not paid with penalty charges commencing.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)