Road terror: Police say they want your support

  • Motorbikes, lorries, buses and three-wheelers involved in majority of the accidents
  • Checking on drunk-driving has had positive effects-Police
  • Motorists charge bad lighting and bad road surfaces also lead to accidents
By Mirudhula Thambiah

At least seven people die every day due to fatal road accidents in Sri Lanka, statistics have revealed.
Most of the accidents occur when vehicles overtake, due to excessive speeding, drunk driving, mechanical defects in vehicles, negligence of pedestrians and motorists, unfavourable road conditions and driver fatigue, related studies and police statistics have shown.

Vehicle wise those involved in majority of the accidents are motorbikes, lorries, buses and three-wheelers. According to the statistics for 2010, 2483 fatal accidents were reported among which, 631 were due to speeding, over taking 493, taking a turn 195, drunk-driving 147, while 89 incidents occurred at pedestrian crossings , 23 due to mechanical defects in vehicles and 99 due to pedestrian negligence.
Traffic, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Asoka Wijetilleke said there was a drop in the number of fatal accidents for this year compared with the same period last year.

An accident victim is taken away to hospital

However, he said this number should be brought down further, adding that the finger should not be only pointed at the police, but the public too should co-operate more to adhere to traffic rules. “Inquiries into accidents have revealed that most of the accidents occur due to the carelessness of drivers,” he said.

Indisciplined driving which include speeding, overtaking at inappropriate places, turning without signals and driving under the influence of liquor was the cause behind 16,765 accidents out of a total of 33,339 in 2006.

Most of the night-time accidents that occurred early last year were due to drunk-driving. But according to police statistics, these incidents are gradually decreasing. DIG Wijetilleke says the police department’s efforts to crack down on drunk- driving appears to be successful

“I think motorists have got the message and they are wary of driving under the influence of liquor. We have noticed that many prefer to hire vehicles to travel in if they have consumed alcohol. This is not meant to harass drivers. The detections are meant for the safety of the drivers as well as other road users.

Driver fatigue is also another contributory factor. Long hours of driving and lack of rest can cause accidents, especially on long haul driving. Some drivers claim that other reasons for traffic related accidents are inadequate street lighting and bad road conditions. However DIG Wijetilleke said these would have only a minimal impact and the main reason was careless driving. He said both motorists and pedestrians must be more civic conscious when it comes to road use.

Police also point out that the unnecessary use of high powered headlamps at night has caused many accidents. “When such headlamps are on, they can momentarily blind motorists coming from the opposite direction, which could lead to serious sometimes even fatal accidents,” the DIG said.He also pointed out that some drivers who are not fit to hold driving licences obtain them through illegal means. This also is a contributory factor to road accidents. He said in some instances they have been able to apprehend such culprits and prosecute them in courts thereby controlling these illegal activities to some extent.

DIG Wijetilleke

However the blame cannot be squarely put on motorists alone, pedestrians too are sometimes at fault. Some pedestrians do not observe road rules especially at pedestrian crossings. However, at the same time there are many instances where accidents take place at pedestrian crossings mainly due to disregard of road rules by motorists.

In the Western Province for this year alone upto April, there were 1283 reported accidents related to motorists failing to stop at pedestrian crossings. Of these the highest number was reported in February with 513 accidents.

Plying unroad-worthy vehicles on the roads have also played a large role in road accidents, the DIG points out. Many vehicles run with mechanical defects like ineffective brakes, or sans head lights and signals.

The DIG also pointed out that traffic police have launched a drive to nab drivers who do not adhere to pedestrian crossing rules. He said for this year upto April 20, 577 such detections were reported in the Western Province. He also said police were alert to parking on pavements and such drivers would be apprehended and charged in courts.

The DIG said that the Secretary of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya have been supportive in guiding the traffic police to curb accidents. Acknowledging that the Supreme Court ruled that speed detection was not within the law, police could still charge a speeding motorist on grounds of dangerous driving.

He said the Road Development Authority was also taking measures as speed driving damages the surface of the road. Following the court order, the RDA had sought amendments to the law to check speed driving and the matter was now before the Legal Draftsman, the DIG said.

DIG Wijetilleke said tough new laws were necessary in spite of recent amendments made to the Motor Traffic Act and related laws increasing the fine on certain traffic offences such as dangerous driving and driving under the influence of liquor.

He said that in his submission to the parliamentary select committee, he called for the revision of the fines and punishment, pointing out that low fines and lenient punishment would not curb serious traffic offences.

The setting up of a national road safety council, developing road infrastructure, building new roads with corridors of service lines, safety measures at railway crossings and an improved system of issuing licences are part of a National Road Safety Action Plan recommended to the committee, the DIG said adding that the report would be handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 11 to coincide with World Road Safety Day.

No hanky panky with smart card licence

Recent amendments to the Motor Traffic Act would bring about an entire change in the process of issuing licences, Motor Traffic Commissioner General B.D.L. Dharmapriya said.

According to the new system, a driving licence would not be issued within one day. All candidates would have to sit for an entrance exam and only those who pass it successfully would be permitted to learn driving. They would have to undergo a minimal learning period of three months before they receive their licences. The new driving licence will come in the form of a smart card with a laser engraving system.
Referring to different categories of licences, he said those who wish to obtain a heavy vehicle licence would be required first to get a light vehicle licence and gain experience for a minimum of two years before obtaining a heavy vehicle licence.“

We hope that the new method once introduced would not only reduce road accidents but would also deter those involved in the trade of fake licences as this is a more technologically advanced system where a candidate’s thumb imprint would be required,” he said.

He also said the Motor Ttraffic Department would introduce a vehicle efficiency test and if a motorist does not receive such a certificate he/she will not be eligible for the revenue licence. Mr. Dharmapala said the heavy vehicle fitness certificate has been introduced in all provinces except the north and east. The certificate is being issued by provincial councils.

Fatigue, drowsiness and accidents: Experts’ advice to drivers

Based on a presentation made at a seminar on “Fatigue and Drowsy Driving” Eminent Surgeon A.H. Sheriffdeen, who heads the Road Traffic Accident Prevention Committee of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, has sent us an article on how fatigue causes traffic accidents and measures to avoid them.

The article was based on contributions made by Prof. Shyam Fernando, Faculty of Medicine, Colombo, Dr. Asela Anthony, Registrar, National Hospital of Sri Lanka, Dr. Ravi Nanayakkara, Lecturer, AJMO, Faculty of Medicine, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, Santushi Amarasuriya, Lecturer in Psychological Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Colombo, and Anvar Bin Azhar, Consultant Safety Engineer
The experts noted in their article that a greater number of accidents occurred when drivers were on a return journey rather than on the first leg of their journey. They said that usually major crashes had occurred when drivers were returning after taking a group on a pilgrimage, after dropping a passenger at the airport, when returning from a wedding, or late night party.

“There are many other factors that alone or in combination contribute to this problem. We have mentioned inadequate sleep or rest caused by social circumstances. Stress at work or working late hours, and doing more than one job resulting in keeping up at night and domestic issues whether children or partner related are also known to contribute to this problem,” the experts say in their article.
“Awareness is an important factor in dealing with this problem -- awareness both by the driver and passengers travelling in the vehicle.

The behaviour of the driver should alert the passengers. Taking more risks, frequent yawning, nodding, blinking and disinterest in carrying on a conversation are some early indications.

More alarming signs include the driver becoming irritable, restless, shifting about on seat, insisting one is alright when asked whether there is a problem, driving in a zigzag manner, missing road signs and irrational speeding and braking,” the article says.

The experts recommend that before a long journey, a driver must have at least six hours sleep. They also advise drivers and those plan to go on long journey to cut short party time, avoid alcohol, finish packing well ahead of time, map out places where they could have a rest, break or nap, and carry plenty of water to drink.

“One should avoid medicines and substances that could cause drowsiness. You should ask your doctor regarding side effects of the medicines he prescribes and specifically find out whether they cause drowsiness,” the experts say.

More than percent of drivers believe that coffee relieves drowsiness and makes one alert. Research, however, has shown that this is not true. Coffee on the contrary has no impact on regular drinkers, the experts say.

“The most effective strategy is to stop the vehicle in a safe area for a ‘power nap’. A power nap is a short period of deep sleep lasting less than 15 minutes when a drowsy person leans back and relaxes with the intention of falling asleep. One can set an alarm with a mobile phone. One should sit in a quiet place comfortably, ask others not to disturb you, shut ones eyes and one soon dozes off. One should wait for a few minutes after getting up till one is wide awake.

One usually wakes up refreshed, and good for another 3 to 4 hours of driving. A power nap however is best taken before the commencement of a journey and not sometime during the journey.”

The human face of road tragedies

Eighteen-year-old Chathuranga Tharindu from Ratnapura met with an accident near Pelmadulla while travelling on a motorbike. He sustained a serious fracture on his leg among other minor injuries.

He says the accident occurred when a cab overtaking a bus collided with his motorbike. He ended up crashing into a lamp post. He has been receiving treatment at the National Hospital for 20 days and is worried because he is the sole bread winner of a family of five.

“Even though I have got leave from my work place I’m unable to earn and support my family,”he said.
H.G. Dahanayake, a father of two from Kuda Oya Hambanthota met with an accident while returning from Kataragama.

He had been travelling with his nine-year-old daughter and three year-old son in a three wheeler when a bus collided with their vehicle. His daughter lost a leg while his son is receiving treatment at the Intensive Care Unit at the National Hospital. The 43-year-old father also sustained injuries.

Although he was finding it difficult to speak he said he was concerned about his children. “My daughter lost one leg but I’m more worried about my son’s condition as he is still at the ICU,” he said.

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