Hell on wheels

Published January 13, 2015
— DawnNews screengrab
— DawnNews screengrab

GIVEN the grisly death toll from traffic accidents on our highways, one would think that the road transport sector is deserving of some attention so that the hazards that create often hellish scenes can be identified and addressed.

Most recently, over 60 people were burned alive following a collision on Sindh’s Super Highway when their bus collided with an oil tanker and caught fire. Scenes of the burned wreckage inside the bus were absolutely nightmarish.

A few months ago in November, a similar collision near Khairpur killed 58 people while earlier in April some 40 people were killed in an accident near Sukkur when their bus collided with a trailer. Closer to Karachi, another collision between a bus and an oil tanker last year led to 35 people being incinerated in Hub district. In each case, the death toll was dreadfully high, and the nature of the collisions strikingly similar.

Take a look: Highway tragedy: bodies burnt beyond recognition

The myriad hazards that lead to accidents of such horrific scope remain unaddressed, while all that the grieving families of the victims are left to deal with is a bland form of fatalism.

Far too many hazards are allowed to persist in the road transport sector. The state of the roads is appalling and traffic rules poorly conceived and even more inadequately enforced.

Drivers are untrained and not sensitised to the need to protect the precious lives entrusted to their care. Buses are packed beyond capacity and built to prevent any escape in the event of an emergency, while fuel tanks are loosely assembled. In the case of the Hub accident, for instance, the bus in question was carrying jerry cans full of smuggled fuel from Iran on its roof. In the most recent accident, the CNG cylinders on the vehicle’s roof exploded, causing the inferno.

To top it off, no proper emergency response system is in place. High-level responsibility needs to be fixed, starting with the provincial transport minister, Mir Mumtaz Hussain Jhakrani, and the secretary transport, Tuaha Ahmed Farooqui.

It is too easy to blame the driver especially when the frequency of such accidents makes clear that far more than the carelessness of those driving the vehicle is at play.

The roads are hazardous, and the transport sector has been left to its own devices. The provincial government needs to wake up to its responsibility in this area, and it must start by holding those at the top accountable for their lapses.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2015

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