Experts use ‘eye test’ for most components, say officials
The motor licencing and fitness authorities have long been conducting fitness tests for vehicles in less than a minute when it takes 15 minutes to conduct the test properly.
According to data collected from the Mirpur circle office of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), they issued clearance certificates for 114,891 vehicles in the last fiscal year.
This means the BRTA office conducted fitness tests for 1.14 vehicles each minute, if it is held that there were 239 working days with seven working hours per day.
However, this calculation does not consider that the office was closed for long periods last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the time spent on each vehicle was actually much lower.
On a visit to the office on Tuesday, this correspondent found one inspector, two assistants, and hundreds of vehicles waiting for fitness tests. Most of the vehicles were private cars, but there were also microbuses, CNG-run auto-rickshaws, pickups, and ambulances.
Drivers and owners of the waiting vehicles told this newspaper that any cars that appeared to be in good condition would be released after a quick glance at the engine number.
Habibur Rahman, driver of a private car, said the test had never taken more than three minutes in his experience. But he often had to wait for more than two hours in the queue.
Mohammad Forkan Ali, who has been driving auto-rickshaws for 25 years, said: “They check to see if the headlights are okay and then ask me to start the engine for a little bit. If they think it is fine, then they let me leave. The entire thing takes less than three minutes.”
Kazi Md Shifun Newaz, assistant professor at the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said a properly conducted fitness test takes at least 15 minutes.
Muhammad Morshedul Alam, assistant director (fitness section) of the BRTA, admits that they need about 15 minutes to complete both digital and visual fitness tests.
There are 30-35 parts of a vehicle for which checking is mandatory, while digital tests need to be conducted to check smoke emission consistency, headlights, brake performance, speed, and wheel performance, among other things.
He added that there were previously 11 inspectors at the office, but nine had been transferred to various areas and one had recently contracted dengue.
BRTA officials say, seeking anonymity, they get requests to check the fitness of 310 vehicles each day, while it is possible to properly check only 32 of them.
Muhammad Morshedul Alam told Dhaka Tribune that they try to do tests properly, but the pressure of vehicles makes it all but impossible.
“Most vehicles are tested manually and with the traditional eye test. The inspectors who work here are experts and they have many years of experience, so their judgment on which vehicles need more testing can be trusted. It cannot be said that we do not do proper fitness tests,” he said.
“We want to test all the vehicles with automatic machines, but we do not have that ability right now. That is why we have to work in the traditional way, which we do according to the rules of the court,” the official added.
In the current fiscal year, a total 8,558 vehicles had been tested till Monday.
The BRTA tested 5,133 vehicles in 20 working days in August, and they tested 2,270 vehicles in 14 working days this month till Monday.
As per the Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983, it is mandatory for a vehicle to go through a fitness check-up every year and have its fitness certificate renewed in order to operate legally on the roads.
For violating Section 47 of the ordinance, which deals with fitness clearance, a person may face, for the first offence, a maximum of three months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to Tk2,000. For subsequent offences, the person may face up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to Tk5,000.
Two machines across the country
The lone automated vehicle inspection centre under the BRTA at Mirpur, Dhaka opened in October 2016. It is the only vehicle inspection centre (VIC) in Bangladesh where there are two machines.
While the centre is designated to check the fitness of only commercial vehicles, it is now also checking private cars manually.
The fitness test of vehicles at the other BRTA offices across the country is carried out only manually.
Shifun Newaz of the ARI said: “According to the law, there are at least 30 types of technical and physical tests that a vehicle needs to undergo in order to pass fitness certification, and for which a minimum of 15-20 minutes is needed.”
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He added that the BRTA staff were unable to spend much time on testing as their capacity has not been increased in a long time. “As a result, many vehicles with fitness certificates are running on the roads, even though they do not have proper fitness.”
According to sources, the BRTA will open VICs in Noakhali, Rangamati, Munshiganj, Faridpur and Mymensingh in phases with the aim of reducing the pressure at other centres.
BRTA fitness tests are already being conducted in Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna and Uttara, Savar, Ikuria and the Ikuria/Savar areas of Dhaka district.
SK Md Mahbub-e-Rabbani, director (road safety) of BRTA, said: “We are arranging more machines for fitness tests from outside the country. We will also outsource to various private operators. We have already selected some companies.
“The plan is for vehicles to go to the BRTA after a fitness test through a digital machine at an automobile garage, a government-approved place outside the BRTA. After that, we will look at the papers and issue a certificate. This will reduce the pressure on the BRTA.”