Thousands of people in Pakistan die due to road traffic accidents (RTA) every year, more than killed by terrorism and earthquakes combine. The number of RTAs occurred only during Eid holidays crossed the figure of a thousand, with 4,677 only in Punjab. According to World Health Organization, 2.69% of Pakistanis lose their lives in RTAs annually. Appallingly, Pakistan stands first on the ranking of deaths caused by road accidents in Asia. This should have provoked alarm in every segment of the society, but we seem to be exceptionally complacent about this problem. Even death of Usama, PPP’s stalwart Qamar Zaman Kaira’s son, in a road accident last Ramazan couldn’t bring about any change in our national mindset nor in our “road safety policy”. Though along with the drawing of firm condemnations from all quarters of the country, this incident should have sparked off a fierce debate on road safety. That didn’t happen.

The underlying causes of RTAs include use of mobile phones, hands-free devices and headphones, gazing at small LCD screens installed in front of the vehicles and smoking cigarettes while driving. Due to low economic status, many people prefer to use unfit vehicles and cut-cars which are illegal but cheap while at the same time highly susceptible to damage even in minor accidents, thereby putting at risk the lives of their riders. For most of us, adoption of safety measures is a cause of shame and an act of cowardice. Even highly educated drivers show reluctance to fastening of seatbelts and only do it while travelling on motorway because of fear of heavy fines, not for their own safety. Roads and highways in most parts of the country are adorned with manholes, craters, and cracks. While drivers try to safeguard tyres of their vehicles from cavities and potholes, it sometimes lead to side or head-on collisions. Under-age driving is commonplace, and a huge number of drivers lack a valid driving license. The culture of compliance to traffic rules and regulations is non-existent; even most of the drivers have no idea of what these are in the first place.

The unscrupulous and extensive use of motorcycles is a serious dilemma to deal with. Almost 150 people visit Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center Karachi reportedly every day owing to injuries incurred in bike related mishaps. In Karachi, motorcyclists constitute 83% of those who get hurt in RTAs. While only in Swat district 119 persons died in total of 527 road accidents in last 18 months, most of which involved bikes.

As motorcycles can be purchased on easy installments now a days, its use has been expanded to every corner of the land including hilly areas. Most of the bikers are young and belong to lower middle class or middle class families. That is why, bikes outnumber cars and other vehicles on roads. Most of its riders are minors who look down upon safety measures, easily gain motivation from bike-racing movies and get adrenaline rush in no time. They flout traffic rules and some come on roads even without working headlights during night. While wheeling and display of other driving skills has become a fashion of the day.

Families travelling on motorcycle have accidents mostly because of loose dresses and dupattas. According to one study, female pillion riders are 31% more likely to receive bike related injuries than their male counterparts because of the same reason. Travelers of motorcycle are especially prone to injuries of head, chest and extremities as their bodies are completely exposed. In case of an accident, even if their lives are saved they are disposed to suffer from paralysis, memory loss etc. therefore, their regulation should be of deep concern to the government. The administration of Malakand division recently announced that a campaign would be launched against teenager bikers where FIR will be registered against them as well as their parents. And petrol stations will be advised not to serve motorcyclists who don’t wear helmets. Now they should move from words to deeds as this area has lost many of its youth due to reckless biking and its inhabitants keenly await imposition of such measures. Besides, the rest of the country needs to come up with similar initiatives.

Moreover, in order to decrease RTAs, hefty fines should be introduced for traffic laws violations. Vehicles whose lights or indicators are out of order shouldn’t be allowed on roads while unfit and cut vehicles must be banned completely. Use of seatbelts could also be declared binding as it plays a major role in survival of victims in road mishaps. Females should take special care of their clothing when traveling on bike while manufacturing companies need to be directed to make special arrangements for covering of rear wheels to minimize chances of sticking dupattas. Receiving of special training program under the aegis of traffic police prior to the provision of driving license may be held mandatory. Last but not the least, eradication of corruption from the licensing department is also strictly necessary.