WAS it human error, defective equipment or a faulty vehicle? This question is once again being asked in the aftermath of a fire near Narang Mandi, Punjab, that broke out on Monday after a road accident, and extinguished the lives of 13 passengers travelling in a van. Immediate information said the vehicle caught fire after colliding with a bus. A number of passengers on the bus were reported to have been seriously injured. There were no survivors in the van — because there was no chance of escape after the fire erupted. Poor visibility because of the fog was blamed. Just a day before, another horrific accident, this time in Pano Aqil, Sindh, resulted in the deaths of at least 11 people. Unfortunately, in this country, the urge to overtake and speed on the roads, or to drive in hazardous weather, is hardly tempered by any sense of caution. Impatience kills, as it did in Pano Aqil where bricks intermingled with human cargo atop an open truck whose driver reportedly made a risky move. And impatience also kills in partnership with risky apparatus, as in the case of the accident near Narang Mandi. The LPG cylinders burned at their most vicious.

There have been campaigns to make roads as safe for travellers as possible. There have been a few improvements but clearly much more remains to be done as the number of road accidents are very high. The WHO says that, globally, “approximately 1.35m people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes” and “93pc of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately 60pc of the world’s vehicles”. It is obvious Pakistan would be among these low- and middle-income countries, but it may have challenges specific to it. For instance, vehicle fitness may be a bigger problem here than in some other places, and the particularly smoggy conditions in parts of the country may require sounder planning and better checks than what we have at the moment.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2020

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