There may be over 2.4 million legal and illegal vehicles being driven by unqualified drivers in Dhaka alone
Drivers without valid licences have remained a long-standing concern for Bangladeshi commuters and safe road campaigners.
According to latest data from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), there are over 3.5 million registered vehicles in the country, but valid licenses have been issued to only 2.6 million drivers.
The authorities however do not have any information on how many valid license holders have not renewed their licences after expiry.
Additionally, Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association (BPWA), a campaigner for safe roads, claims there are around 1.5 million illegal vehicles in addition to registered vehicles, which means there could be over 2.4 million legal and illegal vehicles being driven by unqualified drivers who are putting their own lives along with those of a large number of people at risk.
On July 29, college students took to the streets in Dhaka to protest following the death of two students of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College after a Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan bus ploughed through a crowd of students on Dhaka’s Airport Road while racing with another bus.
Including this latest incident, most of the drivers of city buses that were involved in road accidents failed to produce valid licenses.
The students later came up with a nine-point demand that has been in the spotlight afterwards. One of these is the banning of buses without fitness and unlicensed drivers anywhere in the country.
This is not the first time that such a call has been made. On countless occasions, human rights bodies and families of victims who were killed in road accidents have demanded that the government make sure no driver can drive without a valid licence.
The protest has gotten the authorities to realize their failure to keep the roads safe, and on July 31, the Prime Minister’s Office ordered the BRTA and Dhaka Metropolitan Police to take legal action against drivers without licences in Dhaka.
“Since starting this movement, I have faced a lot of harassment. Now, 25 years later, Bangladeshi students have taken to the streets after realizing that if they do not protest, they might lose their own lives because of these unsafe roads,” said Ilias Kanchan, veteran actor and chairman of NirapadSharak Chai.
Ilias also said, “If the government had implemented the suggestions we made 25 years ago, these incidents could have been avoided. We asked the government to allocate a budget to set up training institutions for drivers, but this was not done – not even in this year’s budget. I ask protesters to refrain from vandalizing vehicles so that vested parties cannot take control of the movement. The demands of the students need to be accepted and corresponding policies implemented from Sunday. If this does not happen, then I myself will take to the streets with the students.”
During the protests, it was seen that it was not only bus drivers who were driving without a licence – even government and police vehicles were found being driven without licences.
On August 1, protesting students stopped a van of the Public Order Management Division of Bangladesh Police in Dhanmondi to check the driver’s licence, but he failed to show one.
The driver, police constable OrbindSamadder claimed that he has a license, but that he kept it at his office.
Various government vehicles, including the vehicle of water resources minister Anwar Hossain Manju, and the chief of Police Bureau of Investigation were found being driven by a driver with no licence.
Also, many videos have been circulating on social media where at least two dozen police officials failed to produce their licence to students.
According to a BPWA report published in April this year, over 77% drivers in Bangladesh do not have driving licences.
The Jatri Kalyan Samity said at least 87% of public transport drivers in the city drive recklessly and violate traffic laws.
When asked, BPWA Secretary General Mozammel Haque Chowdhury alleged that unskilled drivers are acquiring licences through illegal means.
There are complaints that drivers are declared qualified by BRTA’s licence tests in exchange for money, a portion of which is shared among police and mobile courts, he claimed to Dhaka Tribune recently.
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.
The government is considering a new law soon in order to ensure discipline in the road transport sector. According to the draft road transport law, drivers without licences will be punished with a maximum of six months or a fine between Tk25,000 to Tk50,000.