By this time last year, 760 vehicle accidents were recorded which killed 94 people. The number has gone down because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but still 496 accidents were recorded between January and June this year.
The stats are concerning, but not surprising. There are 109,158 vehicles on our roads and the number is increasing. The infrastructure cannot keep with the increasing numbers. Therefore we see traffic jams, roadsides used as parking space and an increasing number of traffic violations.
We have acknowledged all this as a problem. But found no solution. Our solutions are putting more traffic police out on the roads, making new traffic rules, diversions and demarcations. Traffic violators are penalised, but this has not helped.
There is a plan to increase penalties. Police are convinced that the monetary fines imposed on infringements like drink driving, driving without licence or valid license is not stopping them becoming repeat offenders. They are not feeling the pinch to the extent the violators are ready to hurl money at bemused traffic officials and drive away.
The amount proposed is not revealed, but unless violators are made to pay through their nose, it doesn’t seem like a solution that would work.
In many countries, drink driving is a criminal offence. This means the violators should turn up to the court, pay the fine, get the licence suspended for a few months and a charge of misdemeanour. Even if one could afford the fine, the inconvenience of going to courts, legal fees and the conviction could work. As we look to revise our transport plans and legislation, these are some ideas we could explore. Drink driving causes death, if not to the driver, to pedestrians. Similarly, driving without a valid license risks the lives of people.
We have reported several accident-related deaths. The Covid-19 pandemic had not killed a single Bhutanese. Road accidents have. Police records show people driving without licence are on the rise.
However, the biggest problem is the number of vehicles on our roads. Without a coherent policy on motor vehicle number, we are buying and buying. Even during a pandemic when business and livelihoods are affected to the extent that we need kidu, we are buying cars. The only thing that has not changed by the pandemic is the number of new cars added on our roads. On an average, we have added 18 new vehicles every day this year.
A simple solution, which many agree, is stopping the initiatives to lure people to buy. We have not been able to stop providing cheap car loans and we have not done much to develop cheap, reliable and efficient public transport. Bankers say there are people still coming for vehicle loans. Vehicle dealers have several other initiatives including getting around financial regulations to make people buy.
There are comparatively more city buses on the road, but on any given day, people would take a vehicle loan and buy a car for convenience. Traffic rules and penalties come only after the vehicle hit the road. We have to find, like some say, solution to the headache and not to the symptoms.