In need of a road safety crash course

In need of a road safety crash course

A Facebook friend shared a thought-provoking item about road safety on his page this week.

His organisation which is taking part in a state campaign to make our roads safer urged that the term "accident" be eliminated from traffic reports, and instead be replaced with "crash".

Some may laugh at or dismiss this idea which may sound trivial.

But here's the explanation: the term "accident" implies that a traffic event or happening is not expected nor preventable while in reality most can be - or could have been - prevented only if those involved cared enough to do so. 

He said some cities no longer use "accident" in official reports.

A large number of people tend to connect an event with someone's luck. In that sense, it's something that is fixed or pre-destined, nothing can change it. Really? 

I was very irritated with a traffic programme presenter who reported on a crash involving a dozen or so cars on a Bangkok road during a rainstorm one Sunday morning. Typically, she blamed a rain-induced slippery road surface for the "accident" which caused several injuries and that it happens all the time.

No, it's not "just slippery,"  I remember shouting out loud. It was sheer lack of care by the drivers about their own and other people's safety. Many drivers simply refuse to slow down despite poor visibility or bad road conditions. How can this be categorised as an "accident?"

If we look back we'll find that most if not all of the "accidents" that made headlines in the past were preventable. They were all tragedies that could have been avoided.

The incident late last year where a woman was killed while crossing Asok by a lorry driver was not an accident. She was killed after the driver failed to stop when a traffic light turned red. It happened because the driver blatantly violated traffic law. 

Crashes involving double-decker buses occur because their height makes it easier for them to tip over, especially when a driver is negotiating a bend too quickly.

A couple of around-the-world cyclists from England were hit and killed in Chachoengsao two years ago by a speeding driver who reached down to pick up something he dropped in his car, instead of pulling over first. Another foreign cyclist fell victim to similar carelessness while riding in Nakhon Ratchasima this year.

Apart from carelessness on the part of road users, particularly drivers, bad habits on the part of local authorities and workers on road construction or repair projects can significantly compromise public safety. There are many examples here.

Last week, there was a complaint on social media about construction workers in Chon Buri who completed road widening work and left a street sign in the middle of the road instead of moving it to the hard shoulder. Local authorities came up with lame excuses. However, a slew of complaints forced the authorities to relocate the sign. Fortunately, no one hit it or there would have been another avoidable tragedy. 

The most recent was a fatal crash in which a young woman rammed her car into a crane at an elevated train construction site early this week in the Bang Khun Non area. The driver was killed and her passenger seriously injured. Two workers were charged for not putting up safety barriers near the construction site.

This latest case proves that construction sites can be death traps for drivers. Poor lighting and the poor condition and placement of safety equipment such as traffic cones can be factors in crashes.  

For the past 10 years, we have talked a lot about how to cut down accident and accident-related casualties without obtaining satisfactory results. Law enforcers are still as lax as ever in dealing with traffic law violators like motorcyclists - and some drivers - who drive against traffic flow and who drive aggressively.

We may start with the small step of stopping using the term "accident" in cases where it clearly is not the case. 

It could trigger a change in public attitude about the root cause of traffic problems in this country. At least, we may start to learn some lessons.

For that, dropping the term "accident" is a step worth taking. 

Ploenpote Atthakor is Deputy Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Former editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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