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Tackling the demons on Burma’s ‘Highway of Death’

Passengers will soon be able to buy travel insurance with their bus tickets. (PHOTO: DVB)

More speed cameras are being introduced on the Rangoon – Mandalay Expressway to try to curb the spiralling death toll; meanwhile a local group wants to purge the area of evil spirits, and bus companies are selling travel insurance with tickets.

Twelve insurance firms, including government-backed Myanma Insurance, have announced new policies to cover accidents and deaths while traveling on Burma’s highways.

The premiums for a one-way bus journey via any highway will start at 300 kyat (US$0.30) and will cover travellers up to 2.4 million kyat, or $2,500. The scheme starts at bus stations nationwide on 8 May.

Also taking measures to address road fatalities are Burma’s highway police, who recently announced they will install 20 additional speed cameras along the Rangoon-Mandalay expressway in a move to decrease the number of traffic accidents.

No less than 113 lives have been lost on the 590-km Rangoon- Mandalay Expressway in the last year alone, earning it a “Highway of Death” moniker.

A highway police official told DVB that speed cameras were previously installed at bends and stretches on the asphalt road where drivers frequently exceed the 100kph speed limit. “Twenty more cameras will be erected at other sections of the expressway to further enforce regulations,” he said.

Aung Kyaw Naing is a member of a group that plans to hold a Buddhist ceremony in the near future at milestone 116 to pray for those who lost their lives around that dangerous stretch of road. But he said that speeding was not the only cause of traffic accidents, and that the poor quality of the road surface contributed to the death toll. He also blamed “evil spirits” and said the ceremony would help to purge the ghosts from the area.

“The poor-quality condition of the road is probably the main reason for so many accidents,” he told DVB. “However another factor may be evil spirits. During the Japanese occupation [in WWII], a lot of people were killed near the spot where that milestone now stands.”

A survey was conducted on the expressway earlier this year – by a Japanese company – which concluded that 19 percent of the road surface is defective while another six percent also requires repairs.

According to Highway Police data, from 1 January to 17 April 2014, there have been 147 traffic accidents reported throughout Burma, which resulted in 37 deaths and 262 injuries.