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Safety initiative cuts accidents on deadly Dhaka-Sylhet highway

3832A pilot project that installed basic road safety infrastructure such as bus stops and speed bumps on one of the world’s most dangerous highways- the Dhaka-Sylhet highway, has cut road deaths by more than 60% in the first year, according to a study.

The initial results from Safe Crossings, a Dutch NGO focusing on preventing global road deaths, showed that the number of accidents on three stretches of the N2 highway between Dhaka and Sylhet fell from a previous annual average of 110 to 42 in the year after the safety measures were implemented.

According to figures from Safe Crossings, the number of fatalities decreased from 12 to three, while the number of injuries dropped from 240 to 77. Almost 100% of local people surveyed said they thought the road was safer than it had been before.

Jasper Vet, one of the founders of Safe Crossing, says the results should send a loud message to governments, banks and development funders that small investments in basic road safety measures could save hundreds of lives every year.

“The idea that all these people are dying pointlessly, that families are being destroyed by losing loved ones or having to deal with disabilities or serious injuries because we’re not taking action on this, is hard to accept when you look at the results of the N2 project,” says Vet.

Every year, hundreds of people die and thousands more are injured on the N2 highway. Road fatalities and serious injuries spiked after the road was made into a high-speed highway with £169m of World Bank funding in 2005.

According to government figures from 2012, 180 people die on the N2 annually, although this figure is disputed by road safety experts, who believe it to be about four times higher. Thousands more are injured, often seriously.

The carnage on the N2 is replicated across Bangladesh, where the World Health Organisation believes more than 21,000 people are killed each year on the roads, costing the country 1.6% of its GDP.

While the high accident rate is largely attributed to dangerous driving and unsafe vehicles, the absence of basic road safety infrastructure – including footbridges, speed bumps and partition barriers – on many of the country’s fastest and recently renovated highways is a significant contributory factor. Road safety features were neither included in the loan package from the World Bank nor added on by the government.

“What we call vulnerable road users – by which we mean people on bicycles, passengers in rickshaws or buses, and the large number of people walking on the side of the road, often trying to get to work or to school – have had absolutely no protection at all from the dangerous vehicles driving at high-speed since the N2 was renovated,” says Vet.

In 2014, Safe Crossings partnered with the Centre for Injury Prevention, Health Development and Research (CIPRB) in Bangladesh to launch road safety work on three of the most dangerous sections of the N2: the project cost €120,000 (£103,000). Through surveys conducted with people who use and live close to the N2, Safe Crossings identified a series of danger spots along the road where people were most likely to be killed or injured.

The organisation developed a plan to make those sections of road safer, working with international and local road safety groups and local and national government agencies to build road safety structures on the renovated highway.

Safe Crossings built rumble-strips to warn drivers they were entering a village and should reduce their speed, and speed bumps to ensure this happened. Pedestrian crossings were painted on to the road where people were most likely to cross.

Bus bays were built at the side of the highways to end the practice of buses stopping on the road, thus reducing the amount of overtaking – known to be one of the biggest causes of fatalities and injuries. Strips of reflective paint on the side of roads near villages were used to give drivers the impression the roads were narrower than they really were, encouraging drivers to reduce their speed.

At the same time, staff from the CIPRB began visiting villages and communities along the N2. “This project is different from all the road safety work we have done before because we worked very actively with local communities [affected by the N2],” says Dr Md Mazharul Hoque, from the CIPRB.

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