The symbol of Karachi is the bike. The motorcycle is one of the most affordable ways to get around in a city that has more garbage than public transport. In fact its public transport is garbage. But while motorcycles are the best way to get around, they are also, as one researcher found, a sure way to shortening your life.
Motorcycles were involved in over 87% of road traffic injuries reported to Jinnah hospital. And 43% of the people who got injured were young men. This was what the data says from the busiest casualty in the city, the Emergency Room of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Karachi.
Dr Shiraz Shaikh and his team decided to study why and how traffic injuries were happening. “Jinnah hospital was near me so I started my research from its ER department,” said Shaikh, who is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Public Health, Jinnah Sindh Medical University, Karachi.
“The road traffic injury is a neglected field in medicine and al least 10 percent of deaths in our health sector are taking place due to RTIs," he said.
It was clear to him that there was a problem. “I see motorcycle accidents almost every morning while commuting to work," he said. "Most of them don’t stop at signals, violate traffic laws and overspeed."
The study was limited to one hospital and a group of 425 injured people but it does give a good sense of what everyone knows is happening in the city. The study was done between May 25 and June 28 in 2019 and the paper was published in the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences this year.
Dr Shaikh found that at least 43%, or almost half of victims, were between 18 and 29 years old. They were overwhelmingly men (86%). The most accidents involved a motorcycle (87.5%). Rickshaws were the very low 6.8% and cars a mere 2.4%.
The majority of accidents took place on main roads.
“We found out that 15% of people were severely injured. Most of them got fractures but there were cases in which people were disabled," he said. His research also focused on people with mild and moderate wounds which only required first aid.
Over-speeding caused the most accidents. And 13% were accidents in which a woman's abaya got stuck in bike’s chain. Accidents also happened when people broke signals, suddenly applied their brakes or pedestrians just crossed the road at the wrong time.
Not all accidents were because of people. He found some were related to infrastructure like road patches, gutter lids and wet roads.
Alarmingly, 32% of cases were head injuries and 64% were legs and 37% arms.
“Roughly 87% of people were not wearing helmets or seat belts," he added.
“Our productive population is severely affected by road traffic injuries," he said. "It is so damaging because many families lose their breadwinner which affects their livelihood.”
Additionally, the study found that about 11.3 people die per 10,000 vehicles registered in Karachi. The causes are rapid urbanization and motorization trends, traffic violations, road encroachment, and a lack of proper road safety programs.
Separate lanes are needed for bike riders.
The study also said that as accidents happen mostly at night, the risk could be lowered with properly lit streets.