Interview: BUET Professor Moazzem

Integrated database on road accidents needed to cut loss

Professor Moazzem Hossain

Controversy over the number of road accidents and casualties is nothing new. In a recent meeting of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), several government officials expressed their anger over the road accident-related data published by various private organisations. Former director of Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) Professor Moazzem Hossain has talked about the current trend of data collection on accidents and how can the process be made more accurate and so on.

Q :

Why correct data on road accidents and the number of casualties are important?  

Casualties in road accidents are a national loss. This is the question of people’s lack of safety. Therefore, the government authorities concerned have responsibilities to this end. Accident-related accurate data is required to know if the responsible agencies are discharging their duties duly and the extent of the damage.  There is also a humane aspect alongside the loss of an accident. When a person becomes the victim of an accident, the family shoulders all the losses. Efforts should be made to cut this loss. There is also global importance of such data as road safety is an indicator of development. Action plans for the future are made upon analysing the data of the past with that of the present. Question of national development linked with it.

Q :

We see a big mismatch in accident-related data given by the government or police with that of non-government organisations. What is the reason for such a discrepancy? Which data we should consider reliable?

The data given by the police covers only incidents where cases were filed. But cases are not filed in every accident. That means many incidents of accidents go unreported. Also, in terms of accidents over which cases are filed, police only keep records of casualties that take place immediately. But this tally does not keep a record of the victims who died later in hospitals or who die of accident-related injuries months after the incident. This is why the police report regarding accident casualties is incomplete.

There should be an integrated database encompassing all data from police, hospital and insurance companies. But we don’t follow this practice here in our country. We don’t have any role of insurance companies regarding accidents and they should be included in the process.   

Q :

Some private organisations publish accident-related data in our country. Can we consider their data complete?

Their data is more accurate. These organisations keep records from newspapers and other media. Coverage of our media is extensive enough. Analysing local and national media carefully can give a relatively more accurate picture. But these reports are also not fully accurate. The accidents that take place on rural roads do not get coverage in the local media and thus remain out of these organisations' notice. Also, private organisations do not cover the reports of accidents from hospitals and insurance companies. Overall there is around a 40 per cent difference between the data given by police and private organisations.

Q :

We consider the data of private organisations more accurate. But we see big differences exist among the data of different private organisations

Normally, no one would exaggerate the number of accident casualties. But it is also true that there are gaps in the data of private organisations. Problems may arise if the method of analysing the data is not correct.

Q :

The government has raised questions on the jurisdiction of private organisations to publish such data. The authorities asked the organisations to prove the veracity of their data. What do you think about it?

The government may want a comparatively better report but can never bar anyone from disclosing any data. Government bodies can seek correct data. Meanwhile, private organisations can even file cases if they think any government information is insufficient and have full confidence in their data.

Q :

The number of vehicles has increased in the country in the last decade. BRTA said the number of accidents and casualties have declined in comparison with the increase in vehicles. What do you think?

According to data from private organisations, the number of accidents and casualties are increasing by 20 to 30 per cent every year. There need not be any correlation between the number of vehicles and casualties. For example, we have around 300,000 to 400,000 cars in Bangladesh but the number of cars in only Bangkok is 4 million. It is not right that accidents will increase if the number of vehicles increases.

Q :

What is the scenario of accidents in Bangladesh in comparison with the neighbouring countries or Asian countries?

The number of accidents in India or Pakistan is almost the same as in Bangladesh. But the number is higher in East Asian countries. The number of accidents and casualties is more in those countries due to drunk driving. This trend is less in our country. Yet the number of accidents and casualties is increasing in our country.

Q :

 What can be a more standard and accurate method of data collection regarding the number and casualties of accidents in our country?

The government has to prove that the data they publish is accurate. Not only government bodies, but private organisations also have the same responsibility. But publishing correct data is mainly the government’s responsibility. The government has many offices such as the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. The government would need to recruit 300 workers at best to keep the data of accidents. They would be recruited specifically for this purpose. This is possible within the existing structure. This is the question of people’s life so there is no reason not to take the matter seriously.