On the wall of a local travel agency in Kandahar hangs a photo with the caption “Shahid”(martyr). The ticket-seller was more than happy to explain:
“He was the driver of a 303-model bus for our travel agency. He got killed in a road accident on the Kabul-Kandahar highway,” he said.
The “martyr”was not alone; more than 30 people had been killed or injured in the same accident.
“Why a martyr?”I asked. “Maybe those who race carelessly over bad and unpaved roads are more murderer than martyr?”
At this the ticket agent got very quiet.
Bad driving by transport companies has led to the deaths of hundreds of passengers. In fact, road accidents are one of Afghanistan’s leading causes of death, ranking behind war and heart disease, but well ahead of other major killers such as birth trauma, maternal mortality and various cancers.
Nesar, a resident of Ghazni shared his story:
“Traveling in 303-model buses is just playing with your life,”he said. “When I have to travel my family does not let me go in 303 buses, because they have heard bad things about them and their drivers. The last accident on the Kandahar- Ghazni highway killed or injured more than 100 people. There are many problems, but we do not know to whom we can complain. The land mines have made huge holes on the roads, the drivers are careless and smoking hashish all the time, and they are endangering people’s lives.”
On May 8, 2016, two 303-buses collided with a fuel tanker on the Kandahar-Ghazi highway. As the speaker above said, more than 100 people were killed or injured, and the buses were completely consumed by fire.
Now many people are afraid of traveling in 303 buses.
Najib Khan, who wanted to go to Ghazni from Kabul, was hesitant about traveling in 303 buses. “This is a big problem, “he said.“The accidents caused by these buses are terrible. The drivers smoke hashish before starting their journey and this causes them to drive carelessly and crash their buses. I did not want to put my life in danger.”
The residents of Kandahar are asking the government to fine the travel agencies that cause such trouble in people’s lives. Many blame the government for being passive and inattentive, but according to the Ministry of Transport, they have been actively pursuing companies with poor records.
Out of 943 registered transportation companies, 230 have had their licenses yanked since the May tragedy for violations of traffic laws.
The reason for so many accidents, say officials, is that drivers pay no attention to laws, use drugs while driving, and are careless on the highways.
On May 22, 2016, Afghanistan celebrated Highway Safety Day. In a ceremony in Kabul, the Deputy Minister of Transportation gave his own interpretation of what was wrong: the problem, he insisted, was a failure of law enforcement.
“The lack of traffic police on the highways cause drivers to ignore the traffic rules and drive carelessly,” said Sayed Wali Sultan.
Last year alone, he added, 1400 people, including women and children, were killed in traffic accidents, while more than 4,000 were injured.