Little has changed in Dhaka even though a student movement for safer roads brought the city to a standstill only a month ago
A month after a widespread protest by school and college students demanding road safety shook up not only Dhaka, but Bangladesh as well, things have hardly changed in the capital city – the streets still remain unsafe.
Based on media reports published over the last one month, the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways recorded at least 282 road accidents across the country between July 29 and August 27, in which at least 315 people lost their lives and 819 more were injured.
The protest movement began on July 29 after a speeding bus ploughed through a group of college students, killing two.
Over the course of the following week, the students tabled a nine-point demand to improve safety on the country’s roads.
One of those demands was a ban on unfit vehicles and drivers without a licence, which has yet to be implemented, several commuters in Dhaka said.
“The unfit and unregistered vehicles roam freely as before, and the drivers are still reckless,” Raihan, a bus commuter between Uttara and Mohammadpur, said.
“Most buses are still taking in more passengers than they can accommodate, and rarely follow the traffic rules, including maintaining the speed limit in the city.
“When our bus driver was confronted by passengers over the state of his bus and his driving, he did not pay any heed and kept on his reckless driving.”
As part of the protests, students also attempted to bring a semblance of order to the notoriously chaotic Dhaka traffic flows, splitting the vehicles into clear and designated lanes, with space for emergency lanes as well.
Since the protests ended on August 6, the streets have returned to their usual state – a complete lack of discipline – with cars, buses, trucks, CNG-run auto rickshaws and rickshaws haphazardly taking up space on the streets.
Pedestrians are also not following the rules, according to commuters; they are still crossing roads without using zebra crossings, foot overbridges or underpasses.
Motorcyclists can also be seen driving without helmets, or carrying two riders on the back of their bikes, which is illegal.
‘Changes will take time’
The government accepted the students’ demands and said work was in progress to meet all of them.
However, road safety advocates and experts have said it will take more than a month to bring noticeable changes on the streets of Dhaka, as well as across the country.
Road safety activist Ilias Kanchan, who founded Nirapad Sarak Chai (We Want Safe Roads), said the road safety issues did not receive much attention due to the Eid holidays.
Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, secretary general of Passengers’ Welfare Association of Bangladesh, said he thought road safety can only be achieved through the combined efforts of all stakeholders.
“I believe the student protests were able to open the eyes of the government and the bureaucrats, and brought their attention to the problems in the road transport sector,” he said. “(But) the government alone cannot solve the problems.”
The road safety movement did win a concession from the government in the shape of the draft Road Transport Act 2018, which is currently awaiting approval by the Cabinet.
However, legal expert and rights activists Barrister Sara Hossain said that in terms of rights and remedies, the new law was “taking a major step backwards” from the existing Motor Vehicle Ordinance, 1983.