The tragic mishap in Wangdue, where a bus with 24 people on board plunged into the Punatshangchu, raises the issue on road safety, yet again.
Motor vehicle accidents are both traumatic and dramatic. At times like this, we are quick to blame the roads, the weather and the driver for the mishap. Our roads new or old are still not safe. Rolling boulders have claimed lives in the past and until the terrain stabilises, this phenomenon is likely to continue. The way we drive is, as much an issue but no driver of a public transport, experienced as they are of driving on mountain roads, would intentionally veer the vehicle off a cliff. When falling boulders strike a moving bus, blaming the driver, who is no longer alive, would not salvage the country of the tragedy it went through.
We all become wise after the event. But questions remain. The recent incident has raised issues on the state of public transport in the country. Government policies and political promises stress on private vehicle ownership and vehicle quotas, not on improving public transport that a majority of the population use. We have for long neglected the importance of public transport services. The sector gets attention from policy makers and the media only when lives are lost or when bus drivers test positive for drugs. It is time we address this lacuna in our policies.
The other issue that has surfaced in the wake of the mishap is on heeding to weather advisories and cautionary notices that authorities issue. Bhutan was alerted on the impacts of cyclone Fani and disaster management hotlines activated. The education ministry and police had notified schools and the public to avoid unnecessary travels. Travellers were asked to take the old Thimphu – Phuentsholing road given the risk of falling boulders along the new highway. Tour operators were also informed.
How then were public transport operators that ferry thousands of people everyday to all parts of the country allowed to travel during such inclement weather? With advanced technology, our weather forecasts have today become reliable. Yet, we don’t tend to heed to their advisories as much as we heed to the zakar.
With the rise in the number of vehicles in the country, we are seeing a rise in motor vehicle accidents. Last year, Bhutan recorded the highest number of accidents in the last seven years and the highest number of deaths in the past 13 years. There were 1,360 vehicle accidents in 2018 where 135 lives were lost and 807 injured.
Driver’s error was the major cause of accidents followed by bad road conditions, poor weather conditions and mechanical failure.
It is time we prioritise road safety and enhance communications between agencies. It is time we give attention to public transport.