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July 22, 2012, Sunday

298,000 deaths in 57 years

Last Saturday 24 people died in four traffic accidents across Turkey. Two of the accidents involved vehicles carrying seasonal laborers in Iğdır and Kırklareli. In Iğdır 13 people perished, while six people died in Kırklareli. It is really very pathetic. All over the world, traffic accidents cause deaths; however, I expect Turkey leads the pack of countries that suffer from this issue the most.

I was curious about the number of people who have actually died in accidents in Turkey. I looked through the statistics of the General Directorate of Security. The agency has kept statistics of accidents since 1955. I gained access to the data on accidents between 1955 and 2011.

The results terrified me. During this period 298,000 people died while 3.04 million people ended up crippled. According to these numbers, 600,000 accidents occurred every year and one of our citizens died every hour.

Turkey has achieved the measure of a modern country in many issues. And there is aggressive change and growth in various fields thanks to its young population and boundless energy. In terms of healthcare, it implements social policies that would make several Western countries jealous. The quality of life of the poor is increasing. Schooling, healthcare and road construction have already reached the most distant villages in Anatolia. Modern divided highways have been built all over the country. The Anatolian region is undergoing swift economic development. Turkey has become world's 16th largest economy. In the next 50 years, Turkey will be among the new world powers with other countries like Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and Malaysia.

It is thus very hard to understand this contradiction. In spite of several laws being enacted, the loss of life in traffic accidents just can't be decreased. The deaths of laborers is another issue that hurts us. On average two laborers die every day from work accidents. There are studies being conducted on this issue, but it seems that more aggressive precautions should be taken, or perhaps the system should be fundamentally changed. It seems that increasing penalties on its own isn't enough to prevent these accidents.

The numbers I mentioned don't seem to be acceptable or negligible. It is known that in clashes with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is Turkey's biggest, and really most important, problem today, 40,000 people have died in 30 years.

Excluding the losses in World War I, Turkey lost a total of 30,000 people in the Turkish war of independence. The losses in road accidents are more than even the losses in the Çanakkale (Dardanelles) War. Some 298,000 people in 57 years; it is unbelievable.

When you also take into consideration that 3 million people ended up crippled during this period, it doesn't seem possible for a country to deal with this burden in any way. We lost my cousin, my namesake, in a traffic accident. It is almost as though all families have lost some of their members to road accidents. I remember very well how my uncle and my aunt-in-law became weary of life and how the quality of their life decreased after the death of my cousin.

I think the government should adopt a different method for traffic and work accidents. To me, work and road accidents should be made a primary national matter. Urgent action plans should be devised. The awareness of society should continuously be raised about the magnitude of the loss. More secure transportation and public transportation should be promoted. For me, the body behind the testing and allocation of driver's licenses in Turkey should also be reviewed.

We are chasing many artificial agenda topics and wasting our energy to “beat at the air.” We are so inured to people dying in traffic and work accidents that they find only in few lines in the newspapers. It's because they are thought to be routine. However, in each of these accidents people's lives fall apart, and they fall apart eternally, to boot.

If Turkey wants to continue on its path of becoming a big country, it must get rid of these contradictions.

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