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Sunday, 24 April 2016

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2500 lives a year:

The Hidden War on Our Roads

Sri Lanka is suffering from an accident epidemic. With an average of six fatal road accidents a day, the country's lanes and highways claim almost 2500 lives a year, the figure rivals that of a small war.

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This year the Sinhala and Tamil new year saw a further spike in road deaths, according to the Traffic Division of the Sri Lanka Police, in 2016 between April 10 to 18, a total of 80 people died in road accidents, averaging 10 fatalities per day. This in fact represents a slight decrease from the 96 fatalities recorded over the same period last year.

Police Traffic Division DIG Amarasiri Senaratne expressed satisfaction with the reduction in deaths, "We are extremely pleased that the number of accidents has reduced this year, as the safety of road users is of paramount importance to us," he said.

With a large proportion of Sri Lanka's population travelling during the traditional new year season, there has long been a spike in fatalities over the period. This year the police launched intensive campaigns against drunk driving, with a total of 1,797 drunk drivers arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol over the period.

Despite this effort, over 77 fatal accidents and 213 major accidents took place over the new year fortnight. Speed not alcohol the main killer DIG Senaratne maintained that driving under the influence of alcohol was not a major cause of accidents in Sri Lanka. "Many accidents and deaths occur due to sheer carelessness of road users. Drunk driving is not a major reason for accidents like in other countries," he said. In Sri Lanka, only one percent of accidents occur due to drink- driving, while in many nations the figure exceeds 80 percent.

According to research conducted by the National Council for Road Safety (NCRS), speed and not alcohol was the main cause of serious accidents on our roads.

An NCRS study conducted over the first weeks of April, with data gathered from over 100 fatal accidents. NCRS Chairman Dr. Kodagoda concluded, "Excess and inappropriate speeds are clearly the reasons for a high proportion of mortality that results from road accidents."

Law flouted

While the speed limit on Sri Lanka's A class roads is 70 kmph, the law is flouted with the most common victims being pedestrians, who, according to research done by the Peradeniya University account for more than 40 percent of victims.

In addition to speed, reckless driving has also been identified as a key contributor to road fatalities. Data from the the National Hospital of Sri Lanka indicate that 23 percent of the total number of patients admitted to the National Hospital over the new year were on account of traffic accidents.

"A majority of road accidents could be prevented if people are more careful and law abiding, in most cases accidents take place when drivers try to overtake other vehicles," National Trainer Coordinator for the National Hospital's Accident Service Pushpa Ramyani Zoysa said. "Over short distances, there is only about ten minutes difference between a person who is driving at a speed of 100kmph and a person driving 60kmph," said Dr Kodagoda of the NCRS. Yet, the road death toll in Sri Lanka has remained persistently at near critical levels.

Given the scale of the problem a combined effort is now being made by the Police and National Council for Road Safety. The focus is to increase understanding of basic road rules and safety.

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