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Burma’s roads claim over 500 in 2014

Traffic in downtown Rangoon (PHOTO: Feliz Solomon/ DVB)

Burma’s traffic police chiefs are asking the public to improve safety on the road.

At a recent press conference, the department released statistics showing 558 deaths and 4,239 injuries on Burma’s roads in 2014. That works out to 46.5 deaths and 353 injuries per month – and 80 more deaths over the previous year’s total.

Police attributed the accidents in most part to human error, including reckless driving and a general lack of understanding of traffic rules.

Their report is backed up by statistics released earlier regarding traffic violations. In October, traffic authorities announced that they caught 12,000 drivers in one seven-day period for offences such as driving on the wrong side of the road and driving without a permit. Bus drivers also earned their share of penalties for failing to keep in the right-hand lane and taking highway buses inside city limits.

Although the numbers highlight the need for traffic law enforcement, police face a monumental task on the road. There are 600,000 vehicles registered in Rangoon Division and only 1,000 traffic police, just half of which are deployed at any one time. Moreover, fines are unlikely to deter poor behaviour on the road. The average fine for a traffic violation is 1,500 kyat (US$1.50), police told DVB.

The number of cars on the road has risen dramatically since the country’s opening up in 2011 and the relaxation of import restrictions. To help alleviate traffic congestion, Rangoon Division will invest 30 billion kyat (US$30 million) in traffic lights at 65 busy intersections in 2015, as well as 54.4 billion kyat in three overpasses, DVB reported in December.

Meanwhile, the roads in neighbouring Thailand were rated second most dangerous in the world by the World Health Organization and University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Road fatalities amounted to 44 deaths per 100,000 people, just slightly behind Namibia, which takes the title of first in road fatality rankings with 45 deaths per 100,000 people. Iran is in third place with 38.

It’s in the interest of all Burmese to address the traffic issue before the country joins the ranks of this dubious club. Beyond the human cost of unsafe roads, Burma’s traffic police estimated the loss involved in accidents at 1.2 billion kyat.