Traffic fatalities in Sri Lanka: Six a day

Apr 17, 2012 (LBO) – The headline of a popular Sinhala language daily on 16 April 2012 screamed that 18 people had died in road accidents over the three days of Avurudu. I sympathize with the families and friends of the people who died, but this really does not merit a banner headline.

For the past decade almost we’ve had an average of six traffic fatalities a day. It is common to have more fatalities on holiday weekends, especially one associated with alcohol consumption.

So the real news is that there were only six fatalities a day on the Avurudu weekend. The authorities should be congratulated.

The responsible drivers who forsook alcohol before driving should be thanked. And the headline writer sent back for a refresher course that includes fact checking.

The diversion of traffic to the Southern Expressway is illustrative of the right steps being taken. On the 12th of April the revenue from tolls had been LKR 1,700,000. By the 14th of April, Saturday, it had risen threefold to LKR 5,100,000.

Not all the vehicles did the full distance from Kottawa to Galle, but even if we assume they did, there would have been 4,250 vehicles on the Expressway on the 12th and 12,750 on the 15th. Had the Expressway not been built, all these vehicles would have been on the Galle Road.

There were no fatalities on the Expressway.

What cannot be quantified is how many accidents and resulting fatalities and injuries were avoided by the diversion of this many vehicles from the Galle Road to the Expressway. It is not that one cannot die on the Expressway.

But it is harder to do so without trying. The design eliminates possibilities of head-on collisions. The exclusion of slow vehicles and the availability of an overtaking lane contribute to reduced risk taking by drivers.

Sri Lanka has fewer road fatalities than peer countries, but our rate is rapidly increasing.

The significant improvement of the road infrastructure in the past few years will help keep it down, along with behavioral measures such as the seatbelt rule and the policing of driving under the influence of alcohol.

In the meantime, let us thank all concerned for keeping the fatalities down on the holiday weekend.

Rohan Samarajiva heads LirneAsia, a regional think tank. He was also a former telecoms regulator in Sri Lanka. To read previous columns go to LBOs main navigation panel and click on the ‘Choices’ category.