Bhutan’s growing Traffic problems

Bhutan has around 67,000 vehicles and in 2012 itself there were around 26,000 cases of traffic violations across the country with around 17,000 just in Thimphu. There were also 96  deaths in the last one year. These numbers have all been increasing at an alarming rate in the last few years.

The above figures tell us several things. One is that we are a nation of inexperienced and bad drivers. The other is that too many people are still driving under the influence of alcohol. It also shows that there are many car license holders whose driving skills don’t necessarily justify their driving licenses. The figures also show a welcome and unprecedented level of checking by the Traffic Police.

What is a matter of serious concern is the consequent number of dead and injured. In a country where even a large natural disaster does not claim more than a dozen lives the high number of traffic related deaths every year is tragic and unacceptable.

There are several causes of these traffic violations and accidents but some trends are emerging.

One cause is the rise of young, brash and at times ‘high’ drivers who often end up operating the biggest vehicles like for e.g. Tipper Trucks, Excavators and also now City Buses. The tipper trucks driven by these young drivers have become a particular nationwide traffic menace operating from construction sites and mines.

Another danger group is intoxicated drivers visible particularly on Friday and Saturday nights who at times treat even busy streets like Formula 1 racing tracks.

A third problem group are new drivers with limited experience who have just managed to get their driving licenses and lack the confidence or skill to drive and often end up in problems.

It is also not uncommon to see government vehicles being driven brashly by government or corporate drivers who know that even if the car does get into an accident, the money will be coming from the government.

Though small in number but making up for it in speed and the number of near accident situations they create are ‘meat vehicles’ who can be found making two trips a day from Phuntsholing to Thimphu.

Then there are group of ‘bad apple’ drivers who overspeed, constantly violate traffic rules, honk loudly at the slightest provocation and will keep repeating their mistakes unless stopped by the traffic police or a bigger car.

Rude and impatient taxi drivers that treat the roads like their personal driveways and other drivers as intruders is becoming common place.

Apart from people and their cars one major factor in accidents is the nature of the road and transport infrastructure.

In terms of sheer number of deaths and car accidents Thimphu’s overrated ‘Expressway’ is more unsafe to drive on than the landslide prone Sorchen and Jumja points on the Thimphu-Phuntsholing highway.

Thimphu’s Expressway which is no longer an Expressway is an example of planning and maintenance gone badly wrong. Concepts as simple as an over foot bridge or subway  for pedestrians to cross the street are absent while green railings held together by rotting sticks have already caused many accidents.

Drivers still don’t know which lanes to stick too with some driving too fast.  Taxis park randomly in the middle of the Expressway to pick up passengers and street lights are not functioning in many places.  While all of this happens, the only stakeholder who is doing something about it is the Traffic Police as others like Thimphu Thromde, MoWHS and RSTA remain oblivious to what is a major transport problem.

Another example of infrastructure related accidents is the the broadening of the Thimphu-Paro highway. There was a dramatic increase in the number of car accidents on the wider road as drivers drove at speeds which are not feasible in our mountainous terrain.

Bhutan has far too many traffic accidents and deaths many of which have been seared painfully into the nation’s modern conscience. There are those who accept this as a price for development. However, this explanation is not acceptable as the twin measures of catching bad drivers and improving our road infrastructure can greatly reduce accidents in the country.

The whole vehicle licensing system should not be designed to allow in the least competent, but be made more stringent to allow only good drivers on the street. Lawmakers should look at the possibility of tougher traffic laws. The RBP’s strong vigilance should continue and the government should provide more budget for procurement of necessary equipment like speed guns.

Ordinary drivers should also not hesitate to report particularly bad driving along with their number plates.

As the number of vehicles increases in the future the government and relevant agencies should also get their act together to preserve the life and safety of Bhutanese citizens on the road.


“A society sufficiently sophisticated to produce the internal combustion engine has not had the sophistication to develop cheap and efficient public transport?”
Ben Elton

Check Also

Bad Bosses

The Australia Rush has opened our eyes to many things about us and one of …


  1. What about pollution? One day without vehicles in a week would have worked miracle in terms of RUPEE saving and preventing pollution to some extent. But this paper was against Pedestrian day on Tuesdays because TL did not like the Govt.’s decision. It would have definitely contributed to minimal accidents. What the readers say ?

    • mahendra chhetri

      I don’t think banning is a solution and that a days fuel saving is not a saving, we have to look at the setback on the develoment. The vehicle was banned in the world when it was made first because it was thought that it is a dangerous machine which kills people and it killed. But one can imagine the world if this ban existed today. One way it is a pride to see more vehicles which shows development and Bhutanese people’s increasing buying power. Perhapes the increase will continue further and come to a balance. The most important part that I feel is not to slow down the development but to build the infrastracture to accomodate this increase. There are other solutions to control emissons than banning vehicles movement.

  2. Driving in Bhutan is becoming a nightmare each day and night with so many ill maintained and bad roads. There is a lot of safety issues and the many bad and mad motorist don’t make the situation any better. The only way to improve the traffic violations is to keep a strict vigilant team to monitor the motorists. And fine heavily. I agree that drivers must go through a stringent process to get their license. There has to be refresher course for drivers and aggressive sensitization workshop on traffic do and don’t. There has to be safe footpaths for pedestrians to cross the roads and the streets must be well lit at all times. It is a high time that we have the traffic signal lights for the motors and pedestrians like in some of the developed countries.
    The expressway is the worst stretch of road to drive on. The big city buses and other vehicles are having a hard time as there are no proper places to pull over and pick passengers. Those walking have a harder time as there is no zebra crossings or a pedestrian bridge to cross the road. This is a very big problem. Come on, Thimphu is now a proper city. Planners and policy makers cannot plan for a small town here.
    On a different note, I was a supporter of the Pedestrian Day on Tuesday, but it made no sense as many people continued to drive their vehicles to drop off their children to schools, and to offices an hour earlier, and taxis were still allowed to ply.
    Also the many places where vehicles were limited to ply, turned into horrible parking areas. Those areas were not pleasant to pedestrians as some drivers were backing up and parking in a rush.The speeding taxis on a Pedestrian Day on Tuesday made my day worse. There is no scientific study on how the pollution rates were affected, and until then I believe the PD Tuesday would have not had any impact as such on the pollution level or the accident rate in Bhutan.

  3. pollution is a problem but congestion is going to be more problematic before pollution from vehicles. congestion related problem is already manifesting in the increasing accidents and bad driving habits along expressway as detailed in this story and death of a child in changzamtok.

    do the math, its only a matter of time before it becomes faster to walk than to drive in Thimphu. Then we can have pedestrian day every day (maybe to the displeasure of many vocal critics of tax measures, pedestrian day, vehicle import controls etc :-O

    we need to focus on moving “people” not vehicles

  4. Padam B Chuwan

    The heavy vehicle license should be issued to those above the age of 35 yrs and not below. Driving indeed appears to be more reckless when it comes to light vehicles and especially urban. The authorities needs to work on measures to handle this.

    However, no wheels no development, we should not forget this. Coming to pedestrian day, we have had enough of the snail pace, enough of the paraphernalia, it is time now that we should wake up, pick up the tools and start working without stop. The truth is that however we talk and change our policies, unless we work ourselves development will not come. I am one of the most devoted pedestrian citizen whether in the street or in the mountains, but, I don’t reciprocate with the ethics of pedestrian day. Instead, convert this day into a cleaning campaign day, at least something physical will appears, but do not leave the waste on the road side!!. Most importantly, find a solution to trap all the drains flowing to the river, construct various traps to segregate solid waste, treat the waste water and then only let it flow to the river. It does not matter during monsoon as the volume of rainfall will add to dilution and should be mitigated accordingly. Further, make all the pitches (football ground) free of charge on this day including the swimming pool, arrange various physical activities/ sports for peoples participations appropriate to all age groups. Gentlemen this makes more sense then nothing on the pedestrian day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *