Lhakpa Quendren | Gelephu

The death of a class 10 girl student in Sarpang after she was hit by a Land Cruiser Prado on the Gelephu-Sarpang highway at Jigmeling has raised public concerns about speeding vehicles and traffic injuries.

The incident occurred on May 2 and she was immediately taken to Central Regional Referral Hospital, Gelephu, where she died two days later. The incident prompted calls for improved road safety measures to prevent similar accidents in the future.

The two-lane highway between Sarpang checkpost and Tareythang Gyalsung Academy site continues to grapple with issues of speeding and traffic accidents.

Concerned about pedestrian safety and motor vehicle accidents (MVA), residents said safety measures for pedestrians such as installing speed breakers and zebra crossings, especially in the areas with small towns, schools, and institutions along the highway, are needed.    

A resident of Jigmeling, Yeshi, said that speed breakers are seen as essential due to the presence of several institutions and residential houses along the highway.

“Without such measures in place, pedestrians, including students, walking along the highway are at a high risk of injuries. Pick and drop are not so common, so students go walking along the highway,” Yeshi said.

A shopkeeper along the highway of Shompangkha, Yangdon, said that speeding vehicles often splash water from potholes onto pedestrians and nearby businesses. “Pedestrians fail to respond to such incidents because it happens all the time.”

Also, vehicle overspeeding has prompted concerns among the residents along the road toward the Tareythang Gyalsung project because of the potential risk caused by the heavy vehicles ferrying loads.

Another resident of Chhuzagang shared a recent incident with an elderly cattle herder who narrowly escaped being hit by two tipper trucks while passing each other. “Such incidents pose risks for the community,” he said.

Royal Bhutan Police’s Gelephu Division acknowledged the high-risk associated with vehicle speeding and intensified the safety measures, considering the alarming number of MVA and slippery roads due to foggy weather conditions.

Gelephu Officiating Superintendent of Police (SP), Lieutenant Colonel Karma Samten, said that measures and several strategies have been taken up in consultation with Bhutan Construction and Transport Authority, and the RBP headquarter to improve road safety.

“We have put up all the available control measures and resources. We are now very strict, but some incidents continue to occur beyond our control,” he said.

“We have conducted several traffic advocacies and awareness programmes for commuters, including taxi operators, truckers, and all schools, which will further continue. We also deploy traffic police during the rush hours around schools and within the town to manage the pedestrian crossings,” he said.

“Speedbreakers are not permitted on the highways,” Lieutenant Colonel Karma Samten said. “Our division also requested the relevant stakeholders for speed breakers at the Gakiling checkpost where it deemed necessary, but denied due to the prohibition.”

Gelephu RBP also initiated cautionary advice on both the highways of Gelephu-Sarpang and Gelephu-Trongsa for drivers to be cautious of road conditions and potential hazards. The division also heightened the existing measures, such as zero tolerance for traffic violators, highway patrolling, surprise checks, and tests for drugs and alcohol.

The measures being taken by the Royal Bhutan Police are a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to protect pedestrians from speeding vehicles from the relevant stakeholders.

In 2022, there were 34 MVA cases recorded with Sarpang and Gelephu Police stations of which 22 incidents were registered with Gelephu PS. Over the last six months, a total of 20 MVA cases have been registered in Sarpang, out of which 13 cases were registered with Gelpehu PS.