Recently, a friend of mine had to buy a pair of tyres in emergency on the motorway.
He paid Rs19,000 but found out later that he was scammed as the same pair costs around Rs10,000 in Islamabad. He immediately filed a complaint with the National Highway and Motorway Police (NH&MP) helpline. Within two hours, he heard from the concerned deputy superintendent of police, who informed him that the business owner admitted the mistake of his staff and returned Rs8,000 to the police. The police then dispatched the money through immediate mobile transfer. As unbelievable as it sounds, this is actually happening in at least some of the country’s institutions.
Set up 20 years ago, the NH&MP is now responsible for 2,695 kilometres of highways and motorways. Recently, the UNDP ran a survey on 485 commuters at four locations to seek feedback on NH&MP. There was not even a single reported case where the police did not respond to a citizen’s request, with only 1 per cent reporting that police showed up late. Majority of the respondents rated them satisfactory, good or excellent on almost all counts ranging from helpfulness, honesty, fairness and respect for commuters. It is, however, worthwhile to note that almost 35pc respondents in Karachi and approximately 17-18pc in Lahore and Sukkur reported that they do not feel safe when travelling on highways.
On motorways, the percentage was significantly low. Road safety remains a major concern in Pakistan, claiming 30,000-plus deaths every year. Although the issue of road safety is not limited to highways but considering the high-speed traffic and likelihood of serious or fatal injuries, this marks a priority area for highway policing.
Pakistan with 14.2 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants ranks quite low in terms of road safety, when compared to the developed world with less than five fatalities. According to WHO’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015, the accident rate in Pakistan is quite high at 283.9 accidents per 100,000 motor vehicles. The economic cost of road crashes and injuries is estimated to be over Rs100 billion.
The developed world takes road safety very seriously. South Korea, for instance, has mandated the use of car black boxes for taxis to record information related to traffic crashes. This information is then analysed to identify the cause of accidents and feed into strategies for avoiding them.While the world is employing such state-of-the-art solutions, we are still wrestling with more primitive issues.
Lack of driving skills, engineering flaws in road infrastructure and poor enforcement of violations are often cited as most common reasons for accidents. A number of drivers freely drive without licences. Moreover, it is common knowledge that licences can be easily obtained without even physically appearing for driving tests, undermining the credibility of licensing regime. In case of occasional enforcement, nominal fines are imposed for traffic violations without any further consequence.
There is no point system in place, where accumulation of violations can result in the cancelation of licences.
On motorways, the use of night vision cameras is rare, resulting in frequent speeding by drivers after sunset. Although a few digital displays are installed, they are never used for displaying warnings about roadblocks ahead. The police still rely on manual cameras. Even the time stamps at entry and exit of toll plazas are not used to detect violators.
At the time of the M2 motorway’s upgrading, the shoulder rumble strips were dispensed with, apparently, due to high costs. These strips are used all over the world to alert distracted and drowsy drivers to avoid run-off-road collisions and were part of the original motorway design.
The NH&MP has launched a threeyear road safety plan, but we need to understand that the responsibility for road safety is not limited to police. We need to build safer roads, introduce better vehicle safety standards and impose a stronger licencing regime.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2017.