Bhutan may have good road safety laws, but enforcement is weak. This is according to Road Safety in the South-East Asia Region (SEAR) 2015, a publication by the SEAR office.

A regional adviser of WHO SEAR office, Dr Patanjali Dev Nayar, said during training on road safety and media reporting for the media personnel that strengthening enforcement is critical for realising the potential gains associated with passing strong laws.

An assessment of SEAR countries’ legislation to meet five key behavioural risk factors for road traffic injuries found that Bhutan has speed limit law, motorcycle helmet law and seat belt law that meet international best practice. The country meets some criteria for best practice in drink-driving law, but there is no law on child restraint.

Dr Patanjali said that child restraints reduce the likelihood of fatal crash by about 70 percent among infants and between 54 to 80 percent among young children.

On the scale of 10, Bhutan’s rating for enforcement of speed and drink-driving laws was five each and three for the seat belt law. The country gave itself 10 for enforcing the motorcycle helmet law.

Only few SEAR countries met best practice on legislation on five key risk factors. Bhutan was one of them.  

Road traffic injuries kill approximately 316,000 people each year in the region, which constitutes 25 percent of the total global road traffic deaths.

World Health Organisation’s (WHO) country representative, Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus, said that globally road accidents kill more people than diseases. “This is why this issue is very important to us.”

He said that the health sector alone would not achieve much if there were no support from other sectors including the media.

The training is expected to further educate the media personnel on media reporting on the issue because it is about life, effective intervention that can prevent unnecessary deaths from traffic accidents, he added.

Dr Rui said that one of the most effective, efficient, cost-effective interventions in public health is the use of seatbelts. “This is simple but cost-effective and saves a lot of lives.”

Dr Patanjali Dev Nayar said that according to evidence, wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of fatal injury by up to 50 percent for front seat occupants and up to 75 percent for rear seat occupants.

Most of the time when there is a road traffic accident, driver is blamed for speeding, drink-driving, and not obeying the traffic rules and regulations. However, he said that overlying cause of road accidents might not always be the cause of the accident. There could be underlying causes. Sometimes the cause of the accidents could be the infrastructure like the road conditions and bad weather.

Dr Patanjali said that vulnerable road users like pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists make up 50 percent of road traffic deaths in the region.  Of the 11 member countries, Bhutan is the only country where car occupants are the most affected.

There is much variation in the group most affected. In Thailand, 83 percent of road deaths are among vulnerable road users. In Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka pedestrians account for approximately a third of road traffic deaths.

Bhutan has a road traffic fatality rate of 15.1 per 100,000 population. Deaths among vulnerable road users constitute five percent.

Dr Patanjali said the reason for the variation was because of under-reported cases in some countries.

“The safety needs of these groups must be addressed if a decline in the number of regional deaths is to be achieved,” Dr Patanjali said.

He said to prevent vulnerable road users dying from traffic accidents, pedestrians and motorcyclist should be segregated from the motor vehicles.

Currently, none of the 10 participant countries has national policies to separate vulnerable road users from high-speed traffic. 

It was found that high-income countries have only 10 percent of deaths, despite having 46 percent of motor vehicles.

He said it is not the number of vehicles that contribute to the road crashes leading to death or disability. “It is the way a driver drives them, the way we license drivers, the way we build our roads, our traffic system and many other factors which are much better in high-income countries.”

He added: “There is an indirect correlation between the number of vehicles and reduction in the number of deaths if other thing surfaces.”

Ensuring safe road infrastructure, training the first responders in emergency care, and improving post-crash care can help reduce road traffic deaths and the severity of injuries, according to the study.

The study states that if the international road safety targets set for the sustainable development goals of halving deaths and injuries by 2020 are to be met, strong political will and rapid action were needed by governments within the SEAR.

Dr Rui said road traffic accident is preventable. “If we do not prevent it, it will be a burden to the health system, to the family and to the community.”

 Dechen Tshomo