The Cabinet has finally approved the draft of Road Transport Act, making it mandatory for drivers to have passed eighth grade to be eligible for driving licence.
The draft also proposes punishment of one month to three years in jail and Tk5,000-Tk25 lakh fine for those who break the law, depending on the severity of violation.
However, the proposed law does not include punishment in case of accidents that could cause severe injuries or death.
The draft was approved in the Cabinet’s regular meeting in Dhaka on Monday, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in chair.
Speaking at a press briefing after the meeting, Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam said drivers causing fatal accidents would be tried under common law.
“Drivers causing deaths due to reckless driving or their negligence will be tried under the Penal Code’s Sections 302, 304 and 304 (b),” he told reporters.
The Road Transport Act has been in the making for a long time.
Preparation to draft the law started in 2010, but the process was disrupted consistently due to continuous interference of transport owners and workers.
The tragic death of prominent filmmaker Tareque Masud, cinematographer Mishuk Munier and three others in a head-on collision in 2011 particularly stoked the nationwide demand for a road transport law to ensure justice for victims.
Finally after nearly seven years, the draft has been finalised and approved by the Cabinet.
The proposed law will give police the authority to arrest drivers without warrant if they are found committing a cognisable offence.
While drivers need to pass at least eight grade to get a driving licence, their assistants must pass at last fifth grade, and they also need to acquire licence from the road transport authorities.
Under the new law, a driving licence will carry 12 points; for each offence committed by the licence holder, one point will be deducted. Losing all 12 points will result in cancellation of said licence.
Although the cabinet secretary has assured that drivers causing fatal accidents would be tried under the Penal Code, Kazi Md Shifun Newaz, assistant professor at the Accident Research Institute of Buet, is not convinced.
“We recommended life sentence for death by fatal accidents when the act was being drafted,” said Newaz, who was one of the experts consulted for the proposed law.
“But it was not included in the law. It is highly unlikely that police will file cases under the Penal Code when this law comes into effect; transport workers and leaders will influence them to file such cases under the new law as it does not have a provision of punishment in these cases.”
Road accident is one of the biggest causes of unnatural deaths in Bangladesh. In fact, the country has one of the highest rates of death from road crashes in the world, according to World Bank statistics.
Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association data says in 2016, at least 6,055 people were killed and 15,914 injured in 4,312 road accidents around the country. In 2015, road crashes took 8,642 lives.
Non-government organisation National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways has reported that at least 15 people have lost their lives in road accidents in February this year.