FOO CHEE CHANG
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.