Five-year imprisonment, Tk5 lakh fine for maximum penalty; capital punishment for ‘voluntary’ fatal road crash
The Cabinet Division has approved the draft of Road Transport Act 2018 with the maximum penalty of five years in jail and a Tk500,000 fine for fatal road accidents.
The draft law was passed on Monday at the Cabinet’s regular meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, held at the Bangladesh Secretariat.
The tabling of the draft road transport law was not originally scheduled for Monday’s Cabinet meeting, but it was expedited by the nationwide student protest that took off on July 29 following a road accident where two college students were killed by a speeding bus.
During a post-meeting press briefing, Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam said: “Under the new law, a convict will get the maximum punishment if he or she causes death or severe injury via reckless driving or negligence in driving. These offences are also non-bailable.”
Asked about the absence of capital punishment provision, Road Transport and Highways Division Secretary Md Nazrul Islam, who was also present at the briefing, said death sentence was not a punishment for road accidents anywhere in the world.
“However, if a driver is found to have voluntarily killed someone in a road accident, he or she will be tried under the Penal Code’s Section 302, which has death sentence as the highest penalty,” he further said.
The Road Transport Bill, 2018 will be placed in parliament in the next session, which is scheduled to begin on September 10.
If passed into a law, it will replace the existing Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983.
Under the existing law, the maximum penalty for fatal road crashes is a three-year imprisonment.
Experts and road safety advocates demanded that the provision of capital punishment be included in the new law, but the Cabinet approved the recommended five-year imprisonment and Tk500,000 fine as maximum penalty.
When the law was being formulated, it was proposed that the maximum punishment be raised to seven years in jail, but it fell through due to vehement protest by transport owners and workers.
What does the new law offer?
Although it does not include death penalty, the new law includes stricter punishments than the existing law for violation of different traffic rules.
“Implemented properly, this new law will bring discipline in the transport sector,” the Cabinet secretary said on Monday.
Some of the new provisions under the new law are as follows:
Driver’s age and education: Unlike the existing ordinance, the new law has fixed the minimum age and academic qualification for a driving licence – one must pass Class 8 to be a driver, and Class 5 to be a driver’s assistant. One must also be 18 years of age for normal driving licence, and 21 for professional driving licence.
Ilias Kanchan, chairman of advocacy group Nirapad Sarak Chai (We Want Safe Roads), said this new provision had loopholes.
“Driver’s assistants, or helpers, eventually become drivers. If helpers get their job with their Class 5 qualification, how are they going to apply for the driver’s job? This will open up opportunity for illegal means to get the driver’s licence,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Point system: The new law includes a 12-point system for a driving licence – a system that many countries have, said the Cabinet secretary.
For each violation of traffic rules – i.e. not using seat belts, talking on mobile phones while driving, driving on the wrong side of the road, ignoring traffic signals, racing, reckless driving, parking in the wrong place, bad behaviour with passengers, etc., – a driver will lose one point. Upon losing all 12 points, the licence will be cancelled.
Fixed number of vehicles: The authorities concerned can fix the maximum number of vehicles a family or organization can use.
“The authorities can also fix the number of vehicles that can run on a particular road or zone, aiming to control traffic jam,” said Cabinet Secretary Shafiul Alam, adding that Singapore has a similar system.
The authorities can also decide on the economic life of the vehicles through gazette notifications.
Working hours: The authorities concerned can fix the working hours of drivers and helpers of buses, trucks, covered vans and other vehicles, which must be followed by the transport owners. Failing to do so will lead to appropriate punishment under the new law.
Create compensation fund: A financial assistance fund will be created to provide compensation to victims of road accidents.
“The fund will be run by a board of trustees,” the Cabinet secretary said. “The trustees will collect the money from the government as grant, donation from transport owners’ associations, workers’ federation, or other legal sources.
Emergency helpline: In the event of an accident, a driver or helper will inform the nearby police station and hospital via a helpline. The Highway Police will have the helpline number for emergency responses.