It was in the late afternoon while sitting in the British Library Global Health Section after finishing my class and researching articles for my assignment on NCDs and their mortality rate. Suddenly, there were countless beeps in my WhatsApp messenger; I was stupefied at the massive influx of messages and when I opened it, I was astonished at the untimely demise of my best friend, the only child of his parents and a very young health professional who just started his career as a post-graduate resident in surgery department. He died in a road traffic accident on a two-way road with heavy traffic. Hyder was not the only victim of this road, but it has claimed countless lives and is termed as the “Killer Way” by locals in Sindh Province, Pakistan. In the last few months, hundreds of people have died due to numerous road accidents at various places; this excludes 74 train accidents in the last 12 months and the recent massive train accident which claimed more than 70 lives.
Isn’t it the negligence of our government? Aren’t these the deaths at the hands of government? Isn’t the government responsible for the incalculable loss to the victims’ families whose only breadwinner was lost due to preventable deaths. Yes, the deaths due to road traffic accidents utterly lie on the shoulders of the government authorities, who can prevent them entirely by taking necessary precautionary measures. Recently, Pakistan was ranked first in Asia for the deaths due to road traffic accidents. According to the estimation of WHO’s Information, Evidence, and Research (IER) department, more than 27000 people die because of RTAs each year, which contributes significantly to the 90% Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) lost due to RTAs in Low- and middle-income countries. The number of deaths on roads is rising significantly, and it is estimated that 1.35 million people die every year due to RTAs; every 24 seconds, someone dies on the road.
Most importantly, the infrastructure design of roads should be taken into account; there should be a separate passage for motorbikes and cycles and the zebra crossing for pedestrians as they are most vulnerable population among road traffic accidents
RTA are among the leading cause of death worldwide for children and young adults, and more people are dying nowadays due to road traffic injuries than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS or diarrheal disease; which is only because of the neglected road safety measures that only costs little to the governments in setting things in order.
I was wondering why there are very few deaths due to accidents in high-income countries than in low- and middle-income countries. This risk of RTA deaths is three times higher than developed countries. According to the WHO Violence and Injury Prevention Department, LMICs have 1% vehicles with 13% accidents while HICs have 40% vehicles with 7% accidents only. It is because they have effective enactment of traffic laws and road safety measures. It is a one-time investment that blesses many generations with the gift of life.
Below are some evidence-based solutions to be followed by the Ministry of Communication and Transport to reduce the burden of Road Traffic deaths.
Firstly, there should a comprehensive multisectoral transport safety action plan whose prime focus must be on the enforcement of traffic laws. It is estimated that wearing helmets can lead to a 69% reduction in head injuries and can significantly decrease deaths due to RTAs. In high-income countries, it is compulsory to wear helmets, and it’s in their culture as they are taught since childhood to wear helmets while riding bikes. Secondly, wearing seatbelts and child restraints should be made compulsory which reduces 45-50% risk of death due to serious injuries. Thirdly, traffic authorities should deal strictly with bus drivers consuming marijuana and other drugs on long drives, and they should be penalized with hefty fines; simultaneously, authorities should enact regulations for driving time for drivers as sleeping drivers are responsible for majority of the accidents. Fourthly, traffic authorities should deal with heavy hands with the use of mobile while driving which is also the primary cause of accidents. Fifthly, it is compulsory to control speed limits and establish national speed limits on highways and roads in cities, especially near residential, commercial, schools, and hospital areas, along with the modification of roads with speed bumps, roundabouts, and chicanes. Sixthly, safe vehicles and public transports should be ensured by regulating safety CNG cylinder checks as per standard criteria. Most importantly, the infrastructure design of roads should be taken into account; there should be a separate passage for motorbikes and cycles and the zebra crossing for pedestrians as they are most vulnerable population among road traffic accidents. Lastly, there should be an Emergency Management System for post-crash care at high-risk areas to ensure first aid and quick access to health facilities.
These measures don’t need substantial financial resources but utilizing available resources and the strict enforcement of traffic laws. This will help us to reduce traffic deaths and meet Sustainable Development Goals which calls for 50% reduction in RTA by 2020.
The writer is a Chevening Scholar with an MSc Global Health in London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine