'There is no alternative but to create awareness among people about reducing the toll of road crashes, and it is possible'
Travelling in Dhaka is nothing short of a nightmare as the roads have become a death trap for many, especially pedestrians.
According to a study conducted by Accident Research Institute (ARI) at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, a total of 307 road accidents took place in Dhaka’s 54 busiest intersections between 2009 and 2015, claiming as many as 198 lives and leaving 103 others injured.
In March, an unidentified person was killed by a vehicle on the Jasimuddin road in Uttara. Last month, a schoolgirl of Mirpur Girls Ideal Laboratory Institute died on the spot after being hit by a speeding bus while she was going home from school.
The reasons behind the spike in traffic accidents include undisciplined drivers, encroachments on roads, absence of adequate footpaths and footbridges, and commuters’ apathy towards making use of the existing overpasses.
Kazi Md Saifun Newaz, an assistant professor at the ARI, said footpaths and walkways in many places have been taken over almost entirely by hawkers and vendors, forcing commuters to walk in the middle of busy roads.
“Also, drivers are always in competition with one another while driving, putting both passengers and pedestrians at risk,” he added.
A death trap
In 2015, some 229 people were killed in road accidents in Dhaka. The figure skyrocketed by 75% to 401 in 2016, and a total of 1,371 road accidents were reported the same year, according to a report compiled by Fire Service and Civil Defence.
Jasimuddin Road in Uttara turns out is a death trap for commuters with 24 crashes taking place over a time span of seven years since 2009. Data shows that 17 people died in accidents there, 16 of them were pedestrians.
However, the ARI study says there are nine intersections in the city, which has seen at least 10 accidents each, during the same period. The intersections are, Farmgate, Kakoli, Jatrabari, Bijoy Sarani, Sonargaon, Sayedabad, Shyamoli, Pragati Sarani Badda and Zoar Sahara Road.
Police and associations of transport owners and workers said accidents and causalities decreased to some extent in Sayedabad and Jatrabari intersections after the opening of Mayor Mohammad Hanif flyover.
What stakeholders say
Organisations dedicated to ensuring passengers’ safety blamedthe spike in road crashes on the officials concerned, saying that a lack of monitoring and negligence from the authorities are contributing to the rise in deaths on roads.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Passengers’ Welfare Association Secretary General Mozammel Haque Chowdhury said: “Traffic police are now busy controlling the movement of vehicles. They do not have time to care about commuters and their safety.
“On top of that, there is lack of adequate footbridges in right places. As a result, the roundabouts are increasingly becoming riskier.”
He emphasised the need for abiding by the rule of law and holding people driving on the wrong side of the road accountable and building awareness among the stakeholders about improving road safety.
ARI Asst Prof Newaz said people are dying terrible deaths because of engineering errors in road construction and lack of awareness among themselves.
“There are no zebra crossings for pedestrians in the places where footpaths are illegally occupied. Also, the absence of automated traffic signs is responsible for the deficient handling of pedestrians’ movement. We consider this an engineering fault,” he added.
Apparently, there are a sufficient number of footbridges in Dhaka, but many of them have not been built on right spots. Consequently, instead of using the footbridges, commuters are often seen squeezing through metal fences on the central reservations, putting themselves at a risk of fatal accidents, Newaz also said.
“There is no alternative but to create awareness among people about reducing the toll of road crashes, and it is possible,” he stressed.
No laws to control commuters’ movement
Officials at Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) said though there are certain legal provisions in place for vehicle drivers, no laws have been formulated to control pedestrian movement.
BRTA Secretary Muhammad Showkat Ali said: “In the last 3 months, we have realised Tk30 lakh in fines from errant drivers while 40 vehicles were seized and 10 to 12 drivers were sent to jail for reckless driving.
“There is no legal provision for pedestrians. To bring discipline to the transport sector, all we can do is to try to control the speed of vehicles and impose a ban on the movement of unfit vehicles.”
He also said that most accidents take place because pedestrians do not comply with safety rules and walk randomly on busy roads ignoring the risk of falling prey to fatal accidents.
Asked about legal actions, Mosleh Uddin Ahmed, additional commissioner (traffic) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), said that on an average, 3,000 cases are filed every day against drivers for violating the traffic laws.
“But there is no mechanism for controlling commuters’ movement on roads,” he added.
“We do not have footbridges everywhere. People are often seen crossing roads at will as zebra crossings have disappeared in many places,” the DMP official also said.
When asked about the lack of footbridges at certain places, Mohammad Arifur Rahman, superintendent engineer (traffic engineering circle) at Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), castigated the commuters for traffic accidents, saying: “There certainly are an adequate number of footbridges. But people walk on busy streets instead of using them. Many do not even follow the zebra crossing rules.
“Most footbridges remain unused as people do not bother to make use of them.”
More footbridges in the offing
The construction of a footbridge is in full swing in Khilkhet, and two more bridges will be constructed at Shyamoli Shishu Mela and Kakoli points within this year, the DNCC official said, adding that initiatives had already been taken to construct several more overpasses in the city.