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Swat District Grapples With Soaring Traffic Accidents Amidst Inadequate Infrastructure

According to data obtained through the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) from Rescue 1122, Swat has witnessed a staggering total of 5,024 traffic accidents over the past six years.
by TNN Editor - 21 Sep, 2023 1592
swat-district-grapples-with-soaring-traffic-accidents-amidst-inadequate-infrastructure

Shehzad Naveed

Seventeen-year-old Arshad Khan's failure to return home after a routine errand sent shockwaves through the Shaheenabad neighborhood of Charbagh tehsil in Swat district. Khan, who had embarked on a simple mission to procure groceries, mysteriously disappeared, causing distress among his friends and family. A subsequent police report was filed, setting off a chain of events that would uncover the tragic fate of young Arshad.

Investigations revealed that Khan had been gravely injured in a traffic accident. Tragically, he succumbed to his injuries while receiving medical care in the hospital. The news of Arshad Khan's untimely demise sent shockwaves through the community and left his grieving parents in anguish. However, when Khan's lifeless body returned home, it ignited a wave of chaos and sorrow throughout the neighborhood.

Arshad Khan's father, 46-year-old Umar Khan, recounted the tragic incident. He explained that a speeding vehicle in the Mangalore area had struck his son's motorcycle, leading to the fatal accident.

Also Read: Protest Erupts Over Police Violence Against Shopkeeper in Swabi

Swat district has been grappling with a rising tide of traffic accidents, claiming precious lives, with a significant number of casualties being young individuals. These accidents have resulted in either loss of life or debilitating injuries for the victims, particularly among the youth.

According to data obtained through the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) from Rescue 1122, Swat has witnessed a staggering total of 5,024 traffic accidents over the past six years. These accidents claimed the lives of 101 individuals and left 5,909 others injured. The recorded accident figures for each year are as follows: 104 in 2016, 301 in 2017, 399 in 2018, 848 in 2020, 1,644 in 2021, and 1,321 in 2022.

A significant number of these accidents occurred along the main GT road that connects Swat with Malakand district, extending through Lindake check post and Mingora, ultimately reaching Kalam—a route spanning 122 kilometers. In addition to this major thoroughfare, accidents are alarmingly frequent on key highways such as Fizaghat to Charbagh, Kabal, and Tehsil Matta.

Fewer roads and more vehicles:

Swat district, ranked as the third most populous district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (preceded only by Peshawar and Mardan), is home to a population of approximately 2.3 million people based on 2017 data (as the new data is not yet finalized). Despite its substantial population, the district features a total land area of 5,337 square kilometers. According to traffic department statistics, the road network in Swat spans a mere 300 kilometers.

Further insights from the traffic department reveal that the roads in different sectors of Swat are as follows: 27.2 kilometers in Mingora city, 18 kilometers in Charbagh tehsil, 40 kilometers in Kabal tehsil, 30 kilometers in Khawaza Khela tehsil, 48 kilometers in Matta tehsil, and 85 kilometers in Madyan tehsil. This limited road infrastructure is juxtaposed against a staggering number of vehicles, exceeding eight lakh in the city.

Vehicles and illegal parking:

The influx of vehicles into Swat is substantial, with Mingora—the main city—bearing the brunt of this vehicular surge. Daily, approximately 53,000 vehicles, including 28,000 motorcycles, 20,000 rickshaws, 22,000 cars, and 1,230 flying coaches and pickup vehicles, pour into Mingora city alone. Remarkably, the traffic department's recent survey highlights the existence of parking facilities for only 3,000 vehicles within the city.

Additionally, Swat district houses a total of 93 bus stands across its seven tehsils, with 60 of them being legal and 33 operating without authorization. These illegal bus stands encompass 10 in Mingora, 17 in Khawaza Khela, 1 in Madyan, and 5 in Charbagh. Collectively, these bus stands offer parking capacity for 6,057 vehicles. Consequently, many vehicle owners resort to parking their vehicles along roadsides and on residential streets, causing significant traffic disruptions.

Untrained drivers and non-custom paid vehicles:

Dr. Jawad Ahmad, actively engaged in accident prevention awareness initiatives, has identified motorcycles, most notably driven by untrained teenage boys, as the primary culprits behind Swat's escalating accidents. The ease of acquiring motorcycles through private companies offering low monthly installments has contributed to the proliferation of two-wheelers on the roads. Furthermore, the availability of non-custom paid vehicles in Swat, which are affordable but often unregulated, has exacerbated the vehicle influx.

The lack of an effective local public transport system—comprising flying coaches (pickup vans), Datsun pickups, and Suzuki pickup vehicles—has compounded the problem. In the past, large buses served remote areas, but their presence has diminished. Consequently, individuals who visit the market resort to traveling by car or motorcycle. Additionally, narrow roads designed for two-way traffic further exacerbate the issue, with vehicles frequently encroaching into opposing lanes due to excessive speed and impatience, leading to accidents.

Improvements to traffic regulations are necessary to address this issue, as many drivers continue to repeat offenses despite receiving traffic tickets. In contrast to other countries where traffic violators receive fines and face immediate license revocation for subsequent infractions, the situation in Swat differs. Many individuals lack driver's licenses and receive fines linked to their identity cards without further disciplinary action.

Traffic Police Initiatives and Challenges:

SP Traffic Arshad Khan highlights a concerning trend in Swat, where parents frequently purchase vehicles for their teenage children, enabling them to engage in reckless speeding. He stresses the importance of raising awareness, emphasizing that without informed decision-making, reducing traffic accidents remains an uphill battle. Khan implores parents to refrain from providing vehicles to adolescent children and encourages drivers to adhere to speed limits, particularly within densely populated areas.

To mitigate traffic accidents, various awareness campaigns have been conducted on numerous occasions. Parents are urged to discourage their children from driving. Additionally, rigorous actions are taken against illegal parking, unlicensed driving, and underage drivers—particularly in Mingora city and other vulnerable areas. Efforts are also underway to construct parking plazas to manage traffic flow effectively.

Nevertheless, the challenges persist, and the traffic department faces resource limitations. Across Swat's seven tehsils, the traffic department possesses 12 pickup vehicles, two trucks, one mobile container, three lifters, four flying coaches, two ambulances, and 72 motorcycles (comprising 34 with 250 ccs, three with 150 ccs, and 35 with 125 ccs). The department also possesses one base set, 76 pocket phones, and 685 traffic cones to oversee traffic management in various tehsils.

In light of these challenges, the traffic department requires additional personnel, including 10 inspectors, 20 sub-inspectors, and 200 Field Collection Staff (FCS) members, along with essential equipment such as five-speed guns, 3,000 cement blocks, 10 forklifts, 1,000 cones, and 500 dividers. These resources are essential for effective rule enforcement and overall traffic system enhancement in Swat.