Trends in road traffic crashes in Sri Lanka :
Its health, social and economic implications

(Continued from yesterday)


Road fatalities have been increasing in Sri Lanka over the past two decades from 7.5 per 100,000 population in 1980 to 11.6 per 100,000 population in the year 2000; a 55% increase over the period (see Figure 3). Overall, there has been an increasing trend, although a decline was evident in 1987 and again in 1993. During the same period the number of registered motor vehicles increased 4-fold and the population of Sri Lanka by 25% to reach 1,706,074 registered motor vehicles and 18,467,000 people, respectively (see Table 2).

Pedestrians, as a road user group, were over represented in the road fatalities. Pedestrians comprised 51% of all road fatalities in 1980 and reduced to 40% by 2000 (see Figure 4). However, the pedestrian fatality rate increased from 3.8 per 100,000 population in 1980 to 4.4 per 100,000 population in the year 2000.

Passenger related road fatalities remained fairly constant during the study period; being 22% and 23% of the total road user deaths in 1980 and 2000, respectively (see Figure 4). The passenger fatality rate increased from 1.6 per 100,000 population in 1980 to 2.5 per 100,000 population in 2000.

The pedal cyclist fatalities contributed 10% of the total fatalities in 1980 and 15% in 2000 (see Figure 4) and the fatality rate increased from 0.8 per 100,000 population 1980 to 1.6 per 100,000 population by 2000. In contrast, the motorcyclist fatalities remained relatively constant, being 10% in 1980 and 11% in 2000, but the fatality rate reduced drastically from 14.3 per 10,000 registered motorcycles in 1980 to 3.0 per 10,000 registered motorcycles by 2000.

Fatalities to the driver as a proportion of all road fatalities, increased during the period of study. Driver fatalities almost doubled (as a percentage of all road fatalities) from 6% to 11% over the twenty-year period (see Figure 4). However, the fatality rate per 10,000 registered motor vehicles remained relatively constant (around 2.6 per 10,000 registered motor vehicles) during the period.


Overall, the road fatality rate has increased in Sri Lanka by approximately 55% over the period of the study. The increase can be explained in part by the open economic policy adopted by the government in 1978. Since the introduction of the policy, there has been exponential growth in the importation of motor vehicles with limited investment in the road infrastructure and few, comprehensive road safety strategies.

Over the study period, pedestrian fatalities have decreased, as a proportion of total fatalities, whilst driver fatalities have increased. Interestingly, although passenger fatalities did not change markedly during the study period, passenger fatalities remained the second largest road user group contributing one fifth of the road fatalities. This finding is not surprising as Sri Lanka is transitioning through a period of low to high motorization [19]. The transition is reflected by the pedestrian fatality rates reducing, and the driver fatality rates increasing.

In this study, the pedal cyclist and motorcyclist fatality rates present contrasting pictures. While the pedal cyclist fatalities, as a proportion of the total fatalities, increased from 10% to 15%, the fatality rate per 100,000 population doubled during the study period. In contrast, the motorcyclist fatality rate per 10,000 registered motorcycles reduced substantially. This finding is likely to reflect the large increase in the number of motorcycles imported to the country during the study period rather than any strategy targeting motorcycle safety.

Overall, Sri Lanka lost 32,302 lives on the roads over the study period that equated to 1,538 lives a year. Given that the official statistics are likely to be under-reported by as much as 25% [15], this is an immense human loss to a low-income country such as Sri Lanka.

Road traffic accidents in the Kandy Police area


This part describes the road traffic crashes in this congested urban area within a one-year period.


The study was conducted in the Kandy Municipality Area (KMA) located 110 km northeast of the City of Colombo, the Capital of Sri Lanka. This largely urban region had a population of 201,970 in 1998 [13, 20]. Kandy Police interviews all victim/s of RTCs and document information on the social, demographic and economic aspects of the individual(s) along with a description of the crash, environmental conditions at the time of the crash, vehicular characteristics and the action of the driver at the time of the crash. The driverís license and the required documents for the vehicle are also reviewed by the Kandy Police. A Breatherlizer Test is conducted depending on the condition of the driver.

All RTCs reported to the police during the 12-month period 1st October 1998 to 30th September 1999 were included in the study. For the purposes of this study, a road traffic crash was defined as a crash occurring on a public highway/road involving a vehicle and involving personal injury or property damage. Crashes where the vehicle was stationary and the driver was not in the vehicle at the time of the crash were excluded from the study. In Sri Lanka, road traffic crashes are classified into fatal, grievous, non-grievous and damage only crashes. A fatal road traffic crash is defined as a crash where a victim dies due to injuries sustained in the crash, irrespective of the time interval between the time of the crash and death [10].

All analyses were undertaken using SPSS Statistical Software [21]. Comparisons of the means for continuous variables were undertaken using one-way Analysis of Variance. All p-values were two-sided and were considered significant at 0.05 and ninety-five percent confidence intervals were calculated using standard errors from the analysis.

The Ethical Review Committee of the General Hospital, Kandy, approved the study. Informed consent was obtained from all participants for personal participation and use of records.


During the study period 1063 road traffic crashes were reported in the Kandy Police area involving 1931 road users and 1520 vehicles. Of these, 114 crashes were not included in the study because the vehicle was stationary and the driver was not inside the vehicle at the time of the crash. The mean number of crashes per month was 79 and January 1999 recorded the maximum number per month (104). Of these, 9 were fatal crashes, 64 (6.7%) grievous and 208 (22.0%) non-grievous RTCs. In the majority of crashes (70.4%) no one was injured (damage to vehicle and/or to property only). More than 80% of the crashes occurred during day time and in dry weather conditions (93%).

The majority of the road users involved were drivers of vehicles (76.7%) but the vulnerable road users such as pedestrians (10.1%), motorcyclists (4.1%) and pedal cyclists (0.7%) were injured more as a proportion of the total in each category. Nearly two thirds of the involved road users were between 10 to 39 years and majority were males (92.9% of the drivers and 94.1% of the motorcyclists were males compared to only 62.0% of pedestrians and 65.6% of passengers).

The commonest vehicle to be involved was the van (26.1%) while the motor car was second. The public transport vehicles, which comprised the private (PVT) bus, Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) bus and the three-wheeler (TW) accounted for 35.3% of all the vehicles.

These crashes injured 353 road users, causing death to 10 road users. More than half of the injured were pedestrians (53.6%) and another 27.2% were passengers of vehicles. Surprisingly, only 3.1% of pedal cyclists and 11.0% of motorcyclists were injured in these crashes. The mean duration of stay in a government hospital was 3.6 days and the median duration of stay was one day while the duration of stay ranged from 1 to 98 days with a total of 1038 patient days. The majority (68.6%) had an Injury Severity Score (ISS) between 1 and 5. The mean ISS was 5.6 while the median ISS was 3.3. PVT bus was the commonest vehicle responsible, involved in injury causing accidents (23.2%) followed by the van. It was important that nearly in half of these injury causing crashes, a public transport vehicle was responsible.

Only 45 (2.5%) road users were detected to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash and only 10% of the vehicles had any vehicular defects that could have contributed to the crash.

(Continued tomorrow)


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