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A million unlicensed drivers?

  • Published at 01:12 am July 29th, 2019
Dhaka bus driver
Passengers sit close to the driver as they ride in a bus in Dhaka, Bnagladesh, August 7, 2018 Reuters

A July 2019 report found that between January and June, over a mere 180 days, there were 2,159 road accidents which led to 2,329 fatalities

There is an alarming discrepancy between the number of driving licenses issued and the number of motor vehicles registered in Bangladesh. 

BRTA sources say currently about 31 lakh driving licenses have been issued. 

According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), as of July 2019, there are 4,057,743 registered motor vehicles. The BRTA did not provide any concrete number of driving licenses issued, but one official said the ballpark figure is somewhere around 3.1 million.

That leaves roughly 950,000, or nearly one million motor vehicles being driven by unlicensed drivers.

But the number is an improvement from 2017, when the BRTA reported it had 3.42 million registered vehicles against 1.7 million licenses. On April 29, BRTA Chairman Md Moshiar Rahman called for all illegal drivers to get their licenses by June 30.

Driver training lacking quality and quantity

Kazi Md Shifun Newaz, assistant professor at the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), told Dhaka Tribune: “There is already a gap between registered motor vehicles and valid driving licenses. On top of that, there are even unskilled drivers who get valid licenses. The qualifications of the test supervisors are questionable. Driving licenses should be given under strict supervision.” 

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The Dhaka Tribune found that in August 2017, there were only 142 BRTA approved trainers throughout the country at 100 registered training centres.

Asst Prof Shifun Newaz stressed that the real problem lies in drivers with light or medium motor vehicle licenses driving heavy motor vehicles.

According to the existing guidelines, it takes at least six years to obtain a driving license for heavy vehicles.

The researcher noted that bus and truck drivers are extremely reluctant to wait six years for a license. 

Unfit vehicles and road safety

On July 23, the High Court ordered owners of vehicles with expired fitness certificates to renew them between August 1 and September 30.

A July 2019 report found that between January and June, over a mere 180 days, there were 2,159 road accidents which led to 2,329 fatalities. The report identified unlicensed drivers and a lack of driving discipline as the foremost causes of fatalities.

Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, told Dhaka Tribune he sees no significant change in the transport sector in terms of road safety. The only silver lining, according to him, was that the ruling party addressed the issue in their election manifesto.

Referring to the High Court order on vehicle owners getting their fitness certificates from BRTA, he said: “Those who do not have fitness certificates have no right to operate their vehicles on the roads.  

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The BRTA said a total of 522,000 fitness certificates were renewed in fiscal year  2017-2018. In the next fiscal, about 607,000 more were renewed.

Md Sirajul Islam, director (Training) of BRTA, told Dhaka Tribune that drivers with valid driving licenses need to be educated as well, when it comes to road safety. 

He emphasized the importance of public transportation drivers humanizing their driving approach, which is why the BRTA training includes guidance on good demeanour, and teaches responsibility towards passengers. 

In 2018, the government took an initiative to train 136,000 drivers through the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), and the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation by 2023.

In August 2019, a citywide protest for road safety was brought on by the tragic deaths of two school students, victims of a reckless bus driver. In the days immediately following the incident, students took to the streets asking for driving licenses from drivers on the streets and found that even the police or a minister’s car were moving about without a license.