According to transport owners, a large number of Dhaka’s drivers and their assistants, who operate around 50,000 public transport vehicles, are drug addicts
Over half of the commercial drivers in Dhaka take drugs regularly, transport owners and leaders have alleged.
Stakeholders say drugged driving, a common habit among drivers of commercial vehicles and transportation workers, is leading to road accidents in many cases.
However, drivers claim they need drugs to maintain concentration through high temperatures, constant shouting by passengers, and long working hours.
According to transport owners, a large number of Dhaka’s drivers and their assistants, who operate around 50,000 public transport vehicles, are drug addicts. However, they said the number is decreasing gradually.
Although no specific study is available about the number of drug-addicted drivers in Bangladesh, the Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) analysed data for 1998-2014 obtained from the Bangladesh Police.
The analysis shows a downward trend regarding addicted drivers.
“As per the data, about 10% of drivers use drugs,” ARI Assistant Professor Kazi Md Shifun Newaz said.
“However, the numbers are still very low and not realistic, as private organizations have found the rate of drugged drivers stands around 80%.”
Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity General Secretary Khandaker Enayet Ullah said the rate of drug usage among drivers and helpers was 50% only a few years ago.
He said following the incidents of violence and harassment against women on public transportation, they assigned 50 teams to conduct awareness campaigns among drug-addicted drivers and staff.
“The tendency has now reduced to 35%-45%,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
The availability of drugs at bus terminals, truck stands, and bus stations is a common reason behind the high number of drug users.
“The drivers and helpers take drugs before starting their journey, which in many cases leads to accidents,” Enayet said.
Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, general secretary of Passengers’ Welfare Association of Bangladesh, attributed the situation to the government’s failure to install detection methods.
What makes transport workers dependent on drugs?
Drivers said they take drugs to deal with constant fatigue and depression.
“Passengers use abusive language with drivers, even put pressure on them to drive fast, even on busy street,” Mozammel said.
“That makes drivers confused and angry. They also drive for 15 to 18 hours a day. So they take drugs to stay awake till the end of their duty.”
A driver, wishing to remain anonymous, told the Dhaka Tribune that drivers feel dizzy in the afternoon, and they also need drugs to deal with the constant heat of Dhaka.
“Most of us drive vehicles for 12 to 16 hours a day though the labour law limits the timeframe to eight hours,” he said.
“The higher working hour keeps us under constant pressure. Also, there are pressures from other sides—like reaching the destination on time and making extra trips. We also face pressure from the passengers. Drugs help us tackle these pressures.”
Psychiatry Professor Dr Md Tazul Islam from the National Institute of Mental Health said drugs give drivers a little relief for their bodies amid huge pressure.
“Their temporary energy and relaxation do not allow them to drive normally; so they remain high on drugs and face accidents,” he said.
No detection strategy for yaba
It is possible to detect alcohol use among drivers, but Bangladesh does not yet have a detection mechanism for yaba.
Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity leader Enayet said proper drug detection machines should be introduced immediately to make the roads safe for all.
“Most of the drivers and helpers are now taking yaba, cannabis, and phensedyl. So, focus should fall on addressing the issue immediately,” he said.
Buet Prof Shifun Newaz said: “Police cannot detect drug users because of the lack of availability of special drug-detection machines. Also there is an insufficient number of police required to enforce detection.”
Enayet said there are also too few skilled drivers.
“It is estimated that around 2 million drivers are needed across Bangladesh and 200,000 are needed in Dhaka,” he said. “We have repeatedly requested our members not to hand over their vehicles to drug addict drivers, but maybe they are doing it because of a shortage of drivers.”
Department of Narcotics Control Director General Jamal Uddin Ahmed said they will purchase drug identification equipment (detection machines) in the next fiscal year.
What the law says
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) is responsible for punishing addicted drivers.
According to the road transport law, if someone drives, or attempts to drive, a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs – to the point that that they fail to have effective control over the vehicle – they will be punished.
First offences mandate imprisonment of up to three months, a fine of up toTk1000, or both.
For a subsequent offence, drunk or drugged drivers face imprisonment of up to two years, a fine of up toTk1,000, or both. The driver’s licence shall also be suspended for a specified period.
BRTA (Training) Director Md Sirajul Islam said: “It is not possible to deal with the issue legally only. So we conduct regular training sessions to make drivers aware not to take drugs.”