Just a day after 39 people lost their lives when a passenger bus fell into the Gandak canal at Kudriya of Nawalparasi, at least 12 more were killed in two separate road accidents on Monday. Early on the day, three were killed in a collision between a bus and tripper at Sunawal, Nawalparasi, on the East-West Highway; another nine died and 18 others were injured when a passenger bus swerved off Prithvi Highway and fell some 200 meters into the Trishuli River at Krishnabhir, Dhading, the same morning. In the Gandak accident, the overcrowded bus reportedly lost control due to ‘reckless driving’, as the surviving passengers put it.
Besides the usual suspects of drunk driving and over-speeding, we believe there are three major causes to increased road accidents, particularly during the monsoon. One, there are far too many drivers plying our highways on fake driving certificates. This is the case despite the government’s recent initiative to make procurement of fake licenses difficult. For instance, last year it started installing security cameras at trail stations in Kathmandu to stop those who failed trials from obtaining licenses. But while the measure has cut down on fraud in the capital, it is still far too easy to procure fake driving licenses from outside the valley for a small kickback. Two, there are too many substandard vehicles on our roads. The government’s policy to scrap over 20 year old vehicles from Nepal’s roads never saw the light of the day. The plan had to be shelved after vehement opposition from transport entrepreneurs who are loath to procuring new vehicles. They seem to want to keep plying the old vehicles until they judder to a halt.
Third, the condition of the roads has to improve. Especially during the monsoon, the primary contributor to road accidents are crumbling roads pockmarked with ditches. The debris that accumulates on the roads after big landslides also hamper smooth traffic management as well as contribute to road accidents. At a time when there should be an all-out effort to connect every part of the country through roads, the government could add just 15 km of black-topped road last year, leaving thousands of kilometers at the mercy of the weather. Road projects have been inordinately delayed. The government is all set to miss the year-end deadline to open the track for 1,765 km Mid-Hill Highway linking east and west Nepal. We believe time has come to take what are clearly preventable road accidents seriously, thus saving the loss of hundreds of human lives every year. Without proper management of our roads and vehicles, the situation is likely to get from bad to worse as the number of vehicles on the country’s limited road space steadily goes up. Only a collective effort between transport entrepreneurs (who have to take the initiative to scrap old vehicles), traffic police (which has to put in place adequate vehicle monitoring mechanism) and the road department (which has to rethink its age-old concept of road building) will bear fruit. This is one problem that cannot wait election of a stable government.