The resolution is aimed at addressing the shortage of licenced and skilled drivers of heavy vehiclessuch as buses and trucks, and to ensure the proper movement of passengers and freight on the country’s roads
Government’s recent decision to permit drivers of light vehicles with over a years’ experience to drive medium-sized vehicles, and drivers of medium-sized vehicles with similar experience to drive heavy vehicles, has angered road safety campaigners.
The resolution is aimed at addressing the shortage of licenced and skilled drivers of heavy vehiclessuch as buses and trucks, and to ensure the proper movement of passengers and freight on the country’s roads.
The decision has come at a time when the demand for road safety is the most hotly-debated topic across Bangladesh, beginning withthe recent deaths of two college students under the wheels of a speeding bus on Dhaka’s Airport Road on July 29 whichsparked a movement that spread nationwide within days.
Under the relaxed rules, anyone with a professional light vehicle driving licence with over a year of experience will be able to apply for a licence for medium-sized vehicles. Similarly, those with professional and minimum one-year-old medium-sized vehicle driving licences will be able to acquire licences for heavy vehicles.
Road safety campaigners termed the decision as extremely dangerous as it may result in a rise in the number of road accidents and casualties.
Raising their concerns, they said if drivers of heavy vehicles do not acquire legitimate licences, the road safety situation may worsen.
The opportunity to convert the licences will be in effect until December 31 this year, according to thelatest gazette by the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry.
Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association said while the previous prerequisite for obtaining a medium licence was three years of having a light vehicle licence, drivers can now obtain heavy vehicle licences within this period, which could prove fatal for many.
“This decision cannot alone solve the crisis of professional drivers. Rather, the government should organize a full weeks’ training and then test the drivers on their capability to operate such vehicles before issuing a licence. Their current plan will onlyworsenthe situation,” he said.
Bangladesh Bus Truck Owners’ Association Chairman Faruk Talukder Sohel recently told the Dhaka Tribune that although there are roughly 2.5 million vehicles on the road, but the government has not issued as many licences.
“Most drivers of heavy vehicles use licences for light and medium vehicles,” he said. “I think the government should evaluate drivers’ experience with light and medium vehicles before issuing heavy vehicle licences.”
As of July 2018, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority(BRTA) has issued driving licenses for roughly 1.46 million light vehicles, 60,238 medium vehicles, and 138,000 heavy vehicles.
Secretary General of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association Khandakar Enayetullah, however, claimed that there is no such rule of having a three-year prerequisite to acquire a medium or heavy vehicle licence in any other country except Bangladesh.
“The decision will surely help recover from the professional driver crisis,” he added.
On the other hand, Assistant Professor of Accident Research Institute (ARI) under Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) Kazi Md Shifun Newaz said the number of road accidents caused by heavy vehicles remains high as most drivers do not havelegitimate licences.
“Most heavy vehicle drivers do not have the experience necessary to drive them, but they continue doing so with licences for medium or light vehicles,” he added.
He added thatARI will arrange a training session for drivers who will apply to change their licences from light to mediumor medium to heavy.
Heavy vehicles: biggest cause of road accidents
Heavy vehicles are the predominant cause of road accidents, as the majority of their drivers do not have a proper licence,said stakeholders of the sector.
Data compiled by the BRTA on 17 years of road accidents shows that 47% of them involved heavy vehicles.
Of the 71,934 road accidents that took place between 1998 and 2014, a total of 16,647 were bus accidents – the highest of all vehicles. Heavy trucks were next with 14,957 accidents.
Trucks are four or six-wheeled vehicles, while heavy trucks are defined as 10-wheeler prime movers and trailers.
Until July this year, 228,656 heavy vehicles were registered with the BRTA. Of these, 45,537 were buses, 139,564 trucks, 9,474 cargo vans, 28,960 covered vans, and 5,121 tankers.
However, experts say the number of unregistered heavy vehicles plying the roads counts for a further 4,000-4,500.
According to the World Health Organization, Bangladesh is ranked seventh in Asia in terms of casualties in road accidents, behind only China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Bangladesh is also ranked 13th in the world in terms of deaths in road accidents.