The vagaries of life are especially capricious in Pakistan, where law and order is deteriorating, natural disasters are abound and militancy rampant. Yet, the tragedy takes on a different hue when it comes about in a manner that is completely avoidable and foreseeable. The accident in Khairpur, where an overcrowded, over speeding bus collided with an oncoming truck carrying coal, claimed 58 lives; 21 women and 19 children included. The government responded in an all too familiar knee-jerk fashion, pulling all the stops to provide medical care for the victims and expressing condolences. Yet this reactionary method only treats the symptoms of the disease and not the cause. Without a future policy to prevent similar incidents from happening, the government’s actions would ultimately be meaningless.

Road accidents are a significant source of fatalities in Pakistan; much more so than other countries. Almost all of these accidents involve public transport. And the culprits – bad lighting, damaged roads, lack of government oversight and cost-cutting private contractors – are also universal. The initial investigation reveals that the accident was caused by the overcrowded bus trying to overtake at high speeds, on a derelict road that has been under construction for five years and no warning signs in place to caution drivers of the danger ahead. There are also reports that the driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel – all problems which have been solved by the rest of the world through basic governmental oversight. It is appropriate that the FIR names the National Highway Authority (NHA) as the culprit.

One wonders how a government that prides itself on building complicated infrastructure such as bridges, underpasses and metro buses, allowed a road to remain under construction for five years, a national highway no less? Bus overcrowding alters the vehicle’s center of gravity, making it more likely to overturn, and leaves only some passengers with the benefit of seat-belts. This turns these vehicles into high speed metal death traps. A few government officials at bus stops and a stringent fine regime could easily curb this menace. Traffic cones and warning signs are paltry expense and a no-brainer, which the NHA does not deem necessary. Laws on maximum driving hours for a single driver and speed checks can easily combat over speeding, as well as more innovative methods such as fitting public transport with devices that limit maximum speeds attainable. Were the country’s tort law more established, the NHA would be facing damages claims in the millions.

It is deplorable that while the government is willing to spend exorbitant amounts to transport dead bodies on a C-130 aircraft from Sukker to Risalpur, it can’t spend a few thousand to buy a bunch of traffic cones.