Sagala Ratnayaka, the Senior Adviser on National Security and Chief of Presidential Staff to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, announced that the President will swiftly establish a high-level committee dedicated to the prevention and management of road accidents and their associated fatalities and disabilities.
Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka made this declaration during his speech at the “Safe Roads – Safe Children” International Road Safety Conference-2023, which took place at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo on October 01. This conference was organized by the Expert Committee for Road Accident Prevention of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) and primarily aimed to mitigate avoidable child fatalities and lifelong disabilities resulting from road accidents. The discussions at the conference covered various aspects such as education, healthcare, transportation and law enforcement in relation to road safety.
Prof. Samath Dharmaratne, Chairman of the Expert Committee to Prevent Road Accidents, highlighted a troubling global statistic, revealing that a road accident leads to a fatality every 42 seconds worldwide. However, he also pointed out that high-income countries have relatively lower rates of disability and death due to road accidents compared to other nations.
Additionally, Prof. Dharmaratne emphasized that in 2023, 115 children have tragically lost their lives as a result of road accidents in Sri Lanka. He noted that young individuals between the ages of 15 and 44, who form the workforce critical for the country’s development, are often the victims of these accidents, either losing their lives or facing disabilities.
He further revealed that, on average, approximately 3,000 individuals lose their lives in road accidents in Sri Lanka each year and this concerning trend appears to be on the rise.
Prof. Samath Dharmaratne underscored the alarming prospect that, in comparison to future accidents, the numbers of fatalities and individuals suffering from disabilities resulting from road accidents will surge by thousands, leading to substantial economic losses for the country.
Given this dire situation, Prof. Dharmaratne stressed the urgent need for the establishment of a high-level committee dedicated to the prevention and management of road accidents and their related consequences.
Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka, in his additional comments, shared that when initially invited to participate in the event, they were discussing the formation of a committee aimed at preventing and controlling road accidents, along with the associated deaths and disabilities. However, the event drew their attention to the necessity of a high-level committee headed by the President’s Office or personally appointed by the President for this purpose.
He acknowledged several critical issues, starting with the problem of reckless driving. Moreover, certain vehicles, such as three-wheelers commonly used in the country, fail to meet adequate safety standards. Mr. Ratnayaka recognized that an outright ban on three-wheelers is not feasible overnight, given the significant impact on the livelihoods of many and the transportation needs of the public. Therefore, he emphasized the need for a comprehensive plan to gradually enhance the safety of three-wheelers until the country’s economy reaches a more developed stage.
The condition of the road infrastructure also received attention. Sri Lanka lacks an extensive road network and even its main roads often suffer from perilous conditions. The Southern Expressway, for instance, is susceptible to flooding during heavy rains. Mr. Ratnayaka proposed the creation of designated parking lanes to address problems related to vehicle issues or driver fatigue, offering a safe space for drivers to resolve these concerns.
Furthermore, he recognized issues in the enforcement of law and order on the roads, including problems stemming from inadequate staffing and insufficient equipment and technology. However, Mr. Ratnayaka emphasized that waiting for a complete resolution of these issues would only exacerbate the problems. Instead, he advocated for the development of short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans to address road safety comprehensively, acknowledging that the committee tasked with this endeavour would need to consider numerous complex issues.
Finally, he mentioned the President’s appointment of a committee to formulate a policy on vehicle imports. This committee would evaluate whether the country should adopt an open policy on vehicle imports or implement a system similar to Singapore, where a fixed number of permits are issued each year for vehicle imports.
Additionally, to ensure a sustainable balance in the number of vehicles on the road, there’s a need to consider exporting a certain quantity of vehicles from the country. Moreover, it’s essential to explore the adoption of electric vehicles as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional diesel or petrol vehicles. This consideration should encompass factors like the future economic landscape and the state of the road infrastructure. The issue of road accidents also holds significant importance in this context. Consequently, the committee will engage in discussions with various stakeholders to formulate relevant plans.
Mr. Ratnayaka further said, “The scope of work is extensive and I firmly believe that now is the opportune moment to address these concerns. As a result, President Ranil Wickremesinghe will expeditiously establish a high-level committee dedicated to preventing and managing road accidents, along with their associated fatalities and disabilities.
I should note that we have facilitated a meeting between the Sri Lanka Medical Association’s (SLMA) Road Accident Prevention Expert Committee and the President to further delve into this matter.