The law was passed in parliament on September 19, 2018
More than a year after it was passed into a law, the Road Transport Act, 2018 officially goes into effect across Bangladesh on Friday. The authorities in charge of enforcing the law, however, are not fully prepared for the job.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), the state-run regulator for the transport sector, drafted a guideline to aid the new law’s implementation. The draft was submitted at the Road Transport and Highways Division – under the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges only recently, and has yet to be finalized.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, BRTA officials and transport owners and worker leaders said it would be difficult to properly enforce the law without the guideline.
“The government announced to start enforcing the law from Friday (today), but the rules under the law are not fixed yet. We do not understand how it will be possible to go ahead with the implementation,” said Awami League lawmaker and former shipping minister Shajahan Khan, who is the executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation.
He further said the federation would closely monitor how the law is executed. “If we find any discrepancies, we will act accordingly,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
He also said the BRTA lacked the capacity to bring proper discipline to the country’s streets.
“If the road transport authority needs 2,000 officials to maintain discipline in the streets, but is currently operating with only 740,” Shajahan said. “In addition, the BRTA can train up to only 15,000 drivers a year at present, when the demand is for 45,000.”
Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Passengers’ Welfare Association, said unskilled drivers were a major reason behind the lack of road discipline, as well as fatal accidents.
He also questioned why the authorities concerned had not been able to formulate the guideline for the new law, despite having more than a year’s time.
The newly appointed chairman of BRTA, Dr Kamrul Ahsan, and was unavailable for a comment when Dhaka Tribune tried to contact him, because he is abroad.
When contacted, Sheikh Mohammad Mahbub-e-Rabbani, director at the BRTA, refuted Shajahan’s claim that the BRTA does not have the capacity to implement the law.
“The existing team is capable enough to routinely do the task,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
He admitted that it would not be possible to implement the law without the explanations of some of the provisions.
“The rules need to be finalized for the proper execution of some provisions in the law. When the explanations are ready, the implementation will go off without a hitch,” he added.
Asked when the guideline will be finalized, he said: “We have already submitted the draft. The ministry has suggested revision for some sections, which is in progress.”
For now, the BRTA will implement the provisions that do not require the guideline, the BRTA director said.
After years in the making, the draft Road Transport Act was approved by the Cabinet Division on August 6, 2018, following the nationwide student protest that took off on July 29, 2018 after two college students were killed by a speeding bus.
The law was passed in parliament on September 19 and approved by President Abdul Hamid on October 9 in 2018. A gazette notification was published about the passage of the law, but it was mentioned that the government would set the law in motion after fixing an implementation schedule with an official notification.
Transport owners and workers’ leaders objected to several provisions of the law, but eventually agreed to its implementation.
On October 23 this year, the Road Transport and Highways Division issued a gazette notification announcing that the law would go into effect on November 1.
The Road Transport Act, 2018 is replacing Motor Vehicle Ordinance, 1983.
A lot of bases yet to be covered
Police, who are going to implement the law on the streets, did not get enough time to prepare as the government decision to enact the new law on Friday came only a week ago, sources told Dhaka Tribune.
Since the rules and explanations for the law have not been finalized, police cannot make the necessary preparations, the sources added.
According to the new law, a driving licence will contain 12 points. A driver will lose one point for each offence. A driver’s licence will be cancelled if they lose all 12 points for committing offences like not using a seat belt, using mobile phone while driving, driving on the wrong side of the road and racing, reckless driving and misbehaving with passengers, and parking vehicles at the wrong place.
The entire process is supposed to be automated, but the automation system is not yet active.
BRTA Director Mahbub-e-Rabbani said this cannot be done until the guideline is finalized.
The authorities also lack the technical support required to run random dope tests on drivers to curb driving under influence.
There are several other issues that still need to be straightened out, sources said.
Experts said the government did not do much to raise mass awareness about such a significant law, other than publishing advertisement in newspapers.
“The decision to implement Road Transport Act is highly appreciated, as we have been following a 36-year old law that has failed to regulate modern transportation systems,” said transportation and safety expert Prof Shamsul Hoque, who is a professor of civil engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet). “But for proper implementation, the government should run a nationwide campaign, because people are used to violating traffic laws.”
The government should also focus on developing traffic system, he furthered adding that they did get a lot of time to do it before announcing to implement the law.
DMP drafts a fine chart
In absence of the BRTA guideline, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) has prepared a fine chart to aid the implementation of the new law. The fine chart has yet to be finalized by the authorities concerned.
Under the now defunct Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983, the highest punishment for traffic law violation is two years’ imprisonment, while the minimum jail term is one month. The maximum fine is Tk5,000, and the minimum Tk100.
Under the Road Transport Act, 2018, the maximum fine is as much as Tk5 lakh, and the minimum fine is Tk5,000.
The DMP Traffic Division files 5,000 cases on average every day. In August this year, the total fine collection was Tk11crore. Following the new fine chart, the amount of collected fines will increase significantly, if the number of traffic rule violations remains the same.
When contacted, DMP Additional Commissioner Mofiz Uddin told Dhaka Tribune: “We have some plans for the implementation of the new law, which will be ready soon. We will brief the media about the details then.”