Journalist Gajendra Budathoki was on his way home one rainy night when the blinding headlight of an oncoming bus from the wrong side at Bhadrakali turn caused his motorcyle to skid off the road. A spinal cord injury has paralysed him from the waist down.
“I would never go faster than 50km/hour and my friends used to poke fun at me for being slower than a bicycle but now I’m forced to leave the rest of my life bound on a wheelchair,” he laments.
According to the WHO Global Status on Road Safety 2018, only 8 in 100,000 people die of highway and road accidents in developed countries, but the number soars to 27.5 in low-income nations like Nepal.
A Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport study has found that 76% of highway accidents are caused by drivers who do not follow traffic rules, or are speeding.
“Tipper truck drivers get Rs1,000 per trip so they try to make as many roundtrips as possible. I have seen them make five per night, driving even as they doze off at the wheels. If they don’t kill people, who will?” asks the chief of Lalitpur Metropolitan Police Sitaram Hachhethu.
Traffic police have now deployed speed guns to check speeding at the accident-prone Satdobato-Gwarko road. They penalise up to 100 commuters a day, many of them in motorcycles that are going at 90km/hour in the road with a speed limit of 50km/hour.
Road maintenance or lack thereof is another major cause of traffic accidents. Local governments need to wait for the budget to maintain road safety while the Department of Roads is unable to add crash barriers on highways.
“Our roads are narrow, bad, and frankly not the kind we should have built,” accepts Arjun Thapa, head of the Department. “Priority on road construction without proper infrastructure planning is to blame.”
Roads are synonymous with development in Nepal. Every election, politicians promise highways to boost their vote banks. There are excavators clawing away at the mountains all over the country.