Avoidable tragedies


State of our road traffic reflects the quality of our governance

Two tragic road accidents, both due to our eternal failure to impose regulations, have taken place in a short span of seven days. As Oriana Fallaci once put it, the state of the road traffic reflects the quality of the governance in a country. In the incident taking place near Murree at least 12 passengers were killed and over 30 sustained injuries when two buses plunged into a ravine after colliding with each other. In the second incident 20, including 17 children, returning from a district level quiz competition in Nawabshah died when a speeding loaded dumper slammed into their van head on. In May last year 17 children and a teacher were burnt to death when a school van caught fire in Gujrat. These are just a few of the deadly incidents that have recently taken place due to a defective system of governance.

While any accident causing mortalities is tragic, those leading to the death of young children on such a scale are more so. The latest accident in Nawabshah was lamented upon not only by the concerned families but also widely in Sindh. What makes this tragedy and others in the same category even more poignant is that these incidents could have been avoided. .

No doubt the weather factor that included snowfall and low visibility played a role in the Murree accident but this was secondary. In countries where weather conditions of the sort prevail for most of the year, adherence to clear cut regulations ensures the safety of the commuters. It was rightly noted, among others by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, that there were no standard operating procedures (SOPs) for traffic regulation during bad weather conditions. The prime minister directed the divisional administration and police to devise a strategy in this regard. The problem in Pakistan however is that in cases where the regulations already exist these are often not adhered to voluntarily and in the absence of honest and efficient machinery there is no way to force across the board implementation.

In the case of the Gujrat accident last year, the blaze was apparently caused by a spark when the driver of the dual-fuel van switched from gas to petrol. This raised the question whether the kit was substandard or the van was not roadworthy. Several incidents of the sort that have taken place in the country should have been enough to convince the administration that the bodies responsible for the implementation were practically dysfunctional. Thus vehicles which are not roadworthy are allowed to ply not only in the remote areas of the country but in cities like Lahore and Karachi.

In the Nawabshah incident, existing regulations concerning speed on a single lane dirt road were not complied with. In several cases the diving licenses are sold rather than issued after stiff tests. In other cases transport companies force the drivers to work overtime. Many people die in road accidents not on account of any negligence on their part but because of others who are either untrained or under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or both.