What it will take to make our unsafe roads safer

An average of 85 people died in road crashes every year in Bhutan between 2010 and 2015 according to the draft of the National Transport Policy of Bhutan.

Road fatalities averaged around 13 for every 10,000 vehicles, which is one of the highest in South Asia. In Europe, North America and Australia, these numbers typically hover at around 2 fatalities per year per 10,000 vehicles.

While part of it can be attributed to the increased motorization in Bhutan, it is also a result of the absence of coordinated policy to control the problem the draft policy states.

Thimphu Traffic Division Superintendent Karma Namgay said it is a serious issue, which needed stern efforts.

One would be no tolerance of any kind on traffic violations and maximum personnel would be deployed for a continuous stretch of hours.

“Zero tolerance was first initiated in 2014 in Thimphu to create a meaningful deterrent threat to road users to ensure safe and efficient movement of traffic. Initially only Friday and Saturday was identified as Zero tolerance, now with the increase in road users violating traffic rules, every day is zero tolerance day which means there would be no tolerance for any kind of traffic offences and every violation would be same,” Karma Namgay said.

“In the past, only road users with major violations like over speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol or psychotropic substances were penalized while drivers with petty violation were excused. Though every day is recognized as zero tolerance day, on weekends like Friday and Saturday it stretches as long as 3 AM because the movement and accidents occurs around this hours.”

An official from Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) agreed that zero tolerance is important to provide safe and efficient transport system in the country. But it is not the only measure and other things need to be taken into consideration.

Implementing agencies like Thromde and Department of Road (DOR) should provide better roads and a proper road asset management system needs to be instituted. This would involve specifying asset performance indicator for each road class, developing a scientific assessment of present conditions and determining its priorities for maintenance intervention at rational basis.

The RSTA official also said that a major issue associated with road conditions is inadequate budget. “Annually we receive a budget of Nu 3 million for road safety but this year we received only around Nu. 700,000. So being the regulatory authority, we proposed the establishment of a road safety fund and preparation of appropriate funding procedures to fund road safety activities in a sustainable way in the second draft of National Transport Policy 2017,” he said.  “This may include a mechanism to allocate a portion of general tax revenue on road construction.”

While RSTA said penalties for traffic offenses should be increased to reduce road accidents, traffic police argued that penalty with detention should be implemented to reduce accidents.

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