The highways with their high speed vehicles and steep sides are dangerous, but why are people not safe in the jam-packed streets of Dhaka?
People are killed almost every day, mostly pedestrians, and most accidents involve buses.
The tragic accident and subsequent death of Rajib Hossain, a student who lost his right arm caught between two buses that were ramming each other, brought the traffic situation into headlines for a while last month. The headlines have now disappeared.
On Friday, the 50-year-old Samiran Akhter Selina, was hit by a bus in front of Press Club when getting down from bus the was travelling in. Her head was severed from her torso.
Yet, the number of deaths in Dhaka traffic is much higher than people notice.
“On average 64 people are killed across Bangladesh daily, and most of them are in Dhaka,” Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, secretary general of Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association told the Dhaka Tribune on Saturday.
According to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), over 1,000 people died in road crashes in the first three months of this year.
A total of 1,757 people were killed and 3,524 people were injured from 1,443 accidents in Bangladesh from January to June 6, 2018. Among then, 19% were in Dhaka.
All experts and activists involved with traffic issues agree on one thing, there is utter chaos on Dhaka’s streets.
“It is mainly the indiscipline in the sector. Most street accidents involving buses happen when someone is getting on or off a bus,” Mozammel said.
Issues identified by experts include indisciplined drivers, encroachments on roads, absence of adequate footpaths, misplaced footbridges and crossings and commuters ignoring existing overpasses.
Above all, an unhealthy competition takes place among bus companies, leading to reckless and unlawful driving, speeding, bus ramming and a host of other bad practices that go virtually unchecked.
According to a ARI study, a total of 307 road accidents took place in Dhaka’s 54 busiest intersections between 2009 and 2015, claiming 198 lives and leaving 103 others injured.
“The government still does not have a proper plan for Dhaka’s road transport system,” Kazi Md Saifun Newaz, an assistant professor at the ARI, said.
He said the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority (DTCA) is setting up cameras in Gulshan, Mohakhali and Paltan to count vehicles and change signals on the basis of that.
“But Dhaka’s traffic density is too high, so cameras alone cannot detect the traffic movement,” he said.
According to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), there are around 3.3 million registered vehicles in the country, with only 1.8 million driver’s licences.
BPWA Secretary General Mozammel, however, claimed that a further 1.5 million vehicles operate in Bangladesh in addition to the registered ones.
BRTA Secretary Showkat Ali said authorities would not be able to prevent road accidents, but punish the culprits.
“After Friday’s road accident, a case was filed against the bus driver and the route permit of the bus company was cancelled. That is all we can do,” he said.
“The general people have to become aware of the issues of road safety and security,” he added.
What the police can do
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Additional Commissioner (traffic) Mir Rezaul Alam, in a recent remark to the Dhaka Tribune, agreed that inefficient and unskilled drivers were a major cause of the many accidents.
“Many drivers do not have valid licences. Police fails to strictly enforce traffic laws because of a lack of manpower in the traffic division,” he said.
Asked about legal actions, Additional Commissioner (traffic) Mosleh Uddin Ahmed, said that on average, 3,000 cases are filed every day against drivers for violating traffic laws.
On the other hand, there is no mechanism to control commuters’ movement on roads, he said.
The BRTA for the last three years has been running a driver training program. Under this initiative, drivers are receive practical training and licences are then issued to them.
DTCA Traffic Engineer Md Anisur Rahman said that the government is planning to implement a project to establish specific rules and regulations for bus owners and drivers.
Anisur said: “Under the project, the government will foot the bill for losses, with aims to create a friendly transportation environment for both the drivers and passengers.
“Drivers will be free from the additional stress of trying to complete their trip quota. This in turn could help reduce road accidents by 50%.”
“By 2020, each route will be operated by one company, allowing the government more control over buses stops and prevent contractual driving,” he said.