A close-circuit television clip of a fatal motor vehicle accident at Changzamtog yesterday went viral, disturbing those who watched it, and leaving many wondering what could have happened to the driver and passengers in the taxi nearly crushed by the over-speeding car.

The conclusion among many was that our roads are increasingly becoming unsafe with the increased number of vehicles and accident cases. A more worrying conclusion, going by yesterday’s freak accident, was that you are not safe even if you are the most careful driver. This was because the car, driven by an unlicensed driver under the influence of alcohol literally flew over to the opposite lane and hit the taxi.

The two passengers in the taxi suffered severe injuries –  a broken jaw and a broken rib bone – even if the taxi they were travelling in was driven by a professional driver, on the right lane within the speed limit. This is not the first motor vehicle accident that resulted in collateral damage.

Traffic police are dealing with numerous accident cases – minor and major – on a daily basis. This is not helped by the increasing number of vehicles and increasing cases of road safety violators.  With 126,465 vehicles as of August 31, we could have one of the highest per capita vehicle numbers in the world.

The concern is evident from the Bhutan Construction and Transport Authority’s report which identified reduction of annual road crashes as its major challenge. Despite concerted efforts, according to the authority’s annual report, there has been an increase in the number of road traffic accidents, death and injury during the financial year 2022-2023 compared to the preceding year. Road crash fatality rate in the 2022-2023 was at 6.3 persons per 10,000 vehicles.

Road safety, however, is not the responsibility of the police or the transport authority alone. They can only implement regulations, monitor it and act after an accident happens. Safety largely depends on those behind the wheel. Some accidents are caused by mechanical failures while on the road, but many others, like the Changzamtog one, are caused by recklessness, carelessness, drunk-driving, and driving without licenses.

Traffic officials are also noticing young unlicensed drivers, some stealing vehicles from parents or employers causing accidents. Motor vehicle accidents can cause huge losses even if motorists survive accidents. It is worse when innocent passengers, pedestrians and motorists are killed or maimed by someone else’s carelessness or recklessness. It is everybody’s responsibility to ensure our roads, pedestrians and passengers are safe.

Road safety is a global concern and one of the biggest killers, with an estimated 1.3 million lives lost and over 50 million people injured in road accidents worldwide annually. The figures are alarming for tiny Bhutan too. According to available reports, 803 people were involved in motor vehicle accidents in 2022 (as of September). Of that, 79 people were killed and 547 were injured. According to a police report, every month six people were killed and 45 injured, on average, in traffic accidents in 2022.