On any random day — or night, for that matter — you would spot a crowd of people huddled together in the middle of the road or street. As you approach them, it transpires that a motorcycle accident had taken place.
Sadly, road accidents involving a motorcycle are becoming as common in Lahore as the vehicle itself.
The passersby often stop and look on with pity. Some of them stay at the site, trying to help the injured, till the Rescue 1122 vehicle arrives.
At times, the situation gets out of hand because the motorbike riders or anyone hit by them lose their lives.
For one thing, such accidents happen because of over-speeding — often on the part of the motorcyclists — and one wheeling. Commonly, the rider who is coming down at a fast speed applies brake too abruptly, thereby losing balance.
The bikers are often seen shifting lanes on a busy road in the city, putting the lives of their own as well as the others in jeopardy. And, to think that they often do not care about wearing a headgear (a safety helmet)!
TNS tried to find out whether it’s a mere perception that motorcyclists are the most vulnerable to accidents at the same time as they are the most common cause of road accidents.
The Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) data for 2015, available with Rescue 1122, explains the phenomenon. It shows that around 49,026 people had road accidents in different parts of Lahore during the year mentioned above, and the number was the highest among motorcyclists.
It also points out that the accidents by motorcyclists were far greater in number than those involving cars, buses, rickshaws and other vehicles.
According to Dr Ahmed Raza, District Emergency Officer (DEO), Lahore, on an average, 120 road accidents take place in Lahore every day. “Almost 40 per cent of these involve motorbikes,” he says.
Raza further says that 4,988 accidents happened with under-age boys. “The fact that around 23,681 accidents involved motorbikes shows how dangerous this mode of transportation is.”
Over speeding is a major cause of accidents, says Raza. “Around 15,000 accidents happened purely due to this reason.”
He believes “U-Turn is a major challenge for commuters as almost 7,683 accidents are reported to have occurred at such points.
“The youngsters are crazy about one-wheeling which they indulge risking their lives. At least 76 accidents happened last year because of this activity.”
Raza says there are many “black spots” where the accidents happened frequently, but the Canal Road is the most risky. “Most riders use Canal Rd because it is signal-free and has underpasses. They meet with accidents as soon as the road narrows and/or becomes slippery.”
About 23,681 motorcycle accidents in a matter of a year expose the complete failure of the traffic police. Some important questions arise here: Are there any problems with the road design? Why the traffic police fails to minimise the RTAs? Is there any purpose of deploying traffic police on the roads or it is just an unnecessary burden on the provincial budget?
Environmentalist and urban development expert Ahmed Rafay Alam says, “There are no fixed lanes for motorcycles in Lahore.
“Dedicated lanes save the vehicles and commuters from accidents. In China, India and Thailand, we find fixed lanes for motorcyclists.”
Alam further says that in the absence of dedicated lanes, the motorcyclists frequently switch between the extreme left and right lanes as well as the middle lane, coming in the way of the fast moving vehicles. “As the rider of the two-wheeler cannot maintain his balance, he easily becomes a prey to accidents.”
Alam laments the fact that there is no coordination between traffic management and transport planners. “Issues of wrong turns and U-turns can be resolved after consultations between the traffic management and transport planning department ahead of the construction of these junctions. But, who cares?”
Khalid Mahmood Alvi, Chief Engineer, Traffic Engineering and Planning Authority (TEPA), rejects the notion, saying “We share project designs with the traffic police before starting construction of roads and under passes etc. This is not mandatory for us but we do that for the good of the people.”
He claims that there is “no problem with road design. Accidents on the Mall Road, for instance, are more common. Why? Because there is traffic mess and the people are not careful and they commit mistakes.
“Ninety per cent bikers do not use side mirrors while overtaking, so they easily collide with other vehicles on the road. Still a majority of people don’t wear safety helmets.
“No doubt, the helmets cannot stop accidents from happening but they can minimise your head injuries which can be fatal,” he adds.
Tasleem Shuja, National Safety Manager, Atlas Honda, believes “traffic accidents can be helped by using safety gadgets and learning road language.
“Lack of skills leads to loss of confidence among the bikers. As a result, they apply brakes at the wrong points and meet with accidents.
“Unfortunately, there is no institute that can teach them how to drive on roads. Applying brake is a technique that must be learnt. Besides, the motorcyclists must know how to sit with the right posture,” he says. “Motorcyclists in the city often wear a loose dress such as shalwar kameez which is not friendly with the vehicle. Flip-flops and rough shoes also increase the risk [of accident].”
Shuja also speaks of using side mirrors and sticking to extreme left lane. Besides, there ought to be a distance of 10 metres between two vehicles. The speed should not exceed the limit mentioned on traffic sign boards on the road.
“You must not also use mobile phones while driving. It’s a worrying fact that 99.9 per cent people can’t decipher the signs displayed on the roads. Besides, they don’t have driving licenses. How can a driver drive without license? Actually, unqualified bikers become the cause of accidents.”
He also urges on the traffic police to make licenses for all motorcyclists as their top priority. “These should be issued only to those who qualify in the tests.”
An official of Lahore Police says, on condition of anonymity, that the traffic police has failed miserably to enforce law. “Instead of controlling the traffic, the wardens gather around at chowks and engage in their own small talk without bothering about what’s going on around them.”
He blames the Chief Traffic Officer (CTO) for being busy with photo sessions and distributing flowers among the selected drivers, and doing nothing for road safety.
When contacted, the CTO was not available for comment.