Sri Lanka’s roads are getting more dangerous, particularly for children. The recent efforts by authorities to make school transport safer for children has grabbed public attention and while most of the feedback has been positive, there is a grave need for sustainability.
Most people were shocked when Police revealed that 225 schoolchildren were killed in road accidents last year and 4,100 were injured. In 2010 the numbers were marginally less with 223 children killed and 3,400 injured. What was even more startling was that even with these large numbers, it took an unfortunate accident in Mt. Lavinia to provoke the public censure that led to the authorities taking action.
This led to the discovery of a one-handed van driver, raising much public outcry despite the fact that he has driven since 1997 without any accidents and probably deserves to be respected with having abilities that are the same as able-bodied people. Factor in the accidents that are committed by able-bodied people every day and the tragic accident that disabled the driver’s son, and many people will be left wondering whether being driven by a one-handed man is better.
That said, the authorities must be commended for taking action and demanding a better standard of vehicles for children. However, the slaps on the wrist and checking mechanisms may dwindle as time passes by. The best way that this can be avoided is for parents and the public to get involved.
The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) initiated a sign up system where school vans register with the organisation. However, only around 6,000 have done so and the vast majority prefer to simply ignore this rule. To be fair, even if all school vans did register, it is questionable whether they would be monitored adequately around the country and the extra expense in resources would cost the NCPA. This system was mostly set up to minimise chances of abuse by van drivers as has also been reported previously.
This may seem as a dead end issue, but children are primarily the responsibilities of their parents and while it would be challenging for them to always keep an eye on their children’s transportation, it would be more realistic than expecting the authorities to keep at it.
Recent Nielsen market research revealed that 50% of all households have some form of vehicle, making the policing more difficult in terms of overall road accidents. After all, the accidents of the children are only symptoms of a larger problem. Lack of driving discipline and lack of traffic laws is the reason for the escalating number of road deaths.
If the authorities are serious about finding a sustainable solution to child accidents, then they should cast the net wider and look towards other traffic offenders as well. Student deaths are part of the problem and solving it, however comprehensive, is still only part of the solution. More awareness, greater implementation of rules and stronger punishments are all part of this holistic process of which the authorities are an integral part. The issue of road accidents cannot be solved in part if it is to have real effect.