Poor roads, lax laws hike Bangladesh death toll

Fri Aug 26, 2011 1:59am EDT
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By Anis Ahmed and Azad Majumder

DHAKA (Reuters) - Samia Halim struggles to hold back tears as she recalls the fateful night two years ago when a road accident in the Bangladesh capital took the life of her youngest son.

Saif, 19, was returning home after shopping ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast in November, 2009, when a speeding truck ran over him. He died on the spot.

"Saif was waiting to travel to Australia to start a graduation course when his life ended abruptly, and that made me virtually insane. I am still haunted by memories of him, unable to console myself," Samia said, her tears spilling over.

"These days, I prefer not to look at newspapers because they are all filled with news of accidents. So many lives are lost every day on the roads because of reckless driving."

Road accidents kill up to 4,000 people in Bangladesh every year, according to conservative estimates by state transport authorities. Observers say the toll would be much higher if the police recorded all accident deaths.

Most highways are dotted with giant pot holes, often swamped with water, and there are no traffic lights or signals. Worse still, vehicles are frequently driven by untrained drivers without real licenses.

In July, some 44 schoolchildren returning from a football match died after their vehicle slid into a roadside ditch. The driver held only a fake license.

Officials have been indifferent at best. Shahjahan Khan, in charge of the shipping ministry and himself the owner of a transport business, stunned the nation by asserting that anyone "who can identify cows and goats on the roads" could hold a driving license.   Continued...