An average of almost 1,000 road crashes occur in Bhutan every year according to records between 2005 and 2017.
With increased motorisation, at least three motor vehicle accidents are reported everyday in the country today. In these 12 years, at least 80 lives were lost and 468 injured every year. Over the weekend, five lives were lost in Samdrupjongkhar when the truck they were in veered off road. In Trongsa, when the bolero that veered off the road claimed a life , six children lost their father.
Bhutan’s road fatalities, which is about 13 per 10,000 vehicles remains one of highest in South Asia today, according to the draft national transport policy. With a new vehicle hitting the road almost every hour, the country as of April this year ha d 94,956 vehicles. The prime minister told the people in his state of the nation’s address that 8,000 utility vehicles were purchased in the 11th Plan and that vehicle ownership is an indicator of progress and prosperity in rural places.
The perception of vehicle ownership is perhaps the same across the country , but as more people get behind the wheels, often without a licence to drive, lives are put at risk. A study on traffic offences between 2011 and 2016 found that using cell phone while driving, drink driving, speeding, no driving licen c e on the spot and invalid registration certificate account for more than 43 percent of all traffic violations in the country.
Besides the impact on the families, injuries from motor vehicle crashes also burden the health system. The annual health bulletin 2017 records 1,814 morbidity cases of transport accidents with the highest, 985 cases, among those between 15-49 years. Of the total, 209 who were admitted for injuries were between 1-14 years.
Motor vehicle crashes are preventable and a sustained effort to educate road users on traffic offences would help reduce road mishaps. The zebra crossing rule that most road users follow today is an encouraging indictor for road safety officials to step up surveillance and advocacy programmes across the country.
Lead agencies tasked to ensure road safety such as the RSTA and police should conduct more road safety inspections. It has been observed that the wider the roads, the more the motorists are speeding, only to lose control of the vehicle and veer off the roads. With works on to make our roads wider and better, authorities must enforce stricter enforcement of zero tolerance to traffic violations and conduct regular checks on the highways.
Efforts to enhance road safety and compliance to traffic rules must be continuous. It must not be like the defunct speed detectors installed along the expressway in Thimphu. These devices, which have become mere ornaments, do not deter motorists from speeding nor record the traffic flow. Road safety is about saving lives. It deserves more attention.