It was a fine sunny morning on Monday when 15-year old Nannu Miah was found driving a three-wheeler on the Farmgate-Jigatala route, one of the busiest roads in Dhaka.
Like many other boys of his age, he was supposed to be at school at the time, but the opportunity never knocked at his door as the untimely demise of the child’s father forced him to take up driving two years ago to make ends meet.
“Initially, I worked as a conductor but as I expressed my interest to my ustad (master), he taught me how to drive a vehicle,” Nannu told the Dhaka Tribune. “Driving is now my only profession.”
When asked if he had any licence, the boy let out a loud burst of laughter: “I am too young to take a test for a licence. I do not need a licence as the police never stop us and ask to see it.”
“Our seniors who drive on the same route know how to convince cops and get us released when they nab us for driving vehicles without a licence,” he said.
Nannu said there is no need for him to obtain a licence as he claimed to be a more able driver than many others of the profession - despite facing five accidents in the last two years.
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Although it is illegal, many children like 15-year old Nannu Miah steer such vehicles amid a dearth of licensed drivers. BRTA data reveal that there are around 3.42m registered vehicles in the country, but only 1.7m people have driving licence Rajib Dhar
Authorised vehicles, unauthorised drivers
Nannu is not the only one who lacks a driving permit. Currently, over one third of the country’s registered vehicles are being operated by unlicensed drivers.
According to the latest data of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority ( BRTA), there are around 3.42m registered vehicles in the country but only 1.7m licence holders.
In addition to the registered vehicles, the Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association (BPWA) Secretary General Mozammel Haque Chowdhury claims there are also around 1.5m illegal vehicles.
This means there could be over 3 million legal and illegal vehicles being driven by unqualified drivers who are not only risking themselves, but putting a large number of people in peril.
What are the consequences?
Sources at the BRTA and Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges said the country saw 71,934 traffic accidents from 1998 to 2014.
A recent study by Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) revealed that road accidents claim the lives of 12,000 people on an average annually and leave a further 35,000 injured.
Jamir Hossain, a bus driver sentenced to life imprisonment in a case filed over the deaths of internationally-acclaimed filmmaker Tareque Masud, journalist and cinematographer Mishuk Munier and three others in a fatal traffic accident in 2011, was reported to have been unlicensed.
Allegations against BRTA
The BRTA issues two types of licence: professional and non-professional, and there are three categories of vehicles under the professional licence: heavy, medium and light.
However, a Dhaka Tribune inquiry found there are only 142 BRTA-approved trainers across the country and under 100 registered training centres, while every day hundreds of people are applying for receiving training and licences.
On top of this, most of the instructors do not properly perform their duties, according to Kazi Md Shifun Newaz, an assistant professor at Buet’s ARI.
“BRTA has no control over the training centres. Consequently, there is a lack of surveillance on important issues of the transport sector. The absence of sincerity in ensuring passengers’ safety is also noticeable,” Newaz said.
Because every commercial vehicle has an additional driver, the number of such unauthorised drivers is likely to be even higher, Newaz observed.
“Many of these drivers do not even know the importance of obtaining a valid licence. This is why their number is on the rise,” he added.
Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners’ Association Chairman Faruk Talukder Sohel said: “About 80% of drivers do not have appropriate licences. Many of them are driving heavy vehicles either with their licences of light and medium vehicles, or without any licence.”
BRTA Director (training) Mohammad Sirajul Islam said most of the drivers are running vehicles using unauthorised, fake licences.
“Around 90% of them learned driving from their ustads. We do not have an exact record of such unauthorised drivers,” he added.
BPWA Secretary General Mozammel alleged that unskilled drivers are bagging licences through unfair means.
“There are complaints that the drivers are declared qualified in BRTA’s licence tests in exchange for money, a portion of which is shared among police and mobile courts,” he added.
“If the trend continues, skilled drivers would not be created, which will result in more road accidents.”
Mozammel urged the government to ensure fairness and transparency in the tests and reform the transport sector in order to purge it of illegal drivers.