The bill, expected to be passed into a law in parliament next month, will introduce tougher punishments for traffic rule violations compared to the existing one, aiming to ensure safe movement on the roads of Bangladesh that see, on an average, about 3,000 accidents every year
The Cabinet approved a draft road transport law on Monday to curb road accidents and bring discipline to the road transport sector.
The bill, expected to be passed into a law in parliament next month, will introduce tougher punishments for traffic rule violations compared to the existing one, aiming to ensure safe movement on the roads of Bangladesh that see, on an average, about 3,000 accidents every year.
The law has been in the making for years before it went to the Cabinet on Monday, its tabling expedited due to the recent student protests, demanding road safety, better traffic management and strict implementation of traffic rules, fuelled by a road accident that killed two students in Dhaka on July 29.
The new law is introducing specific guidelines on the minimum age and academic qualifications for drivers, number of vehicles on a particular route, working hours for drivers and helpers of buses, trucks, covered vans and other vehicles, compensation for road crash victims, emergency helpline, and more, which are not included in the existing law.
But will the enactment of the new law alone ensure road safety and prevent further deaths by reckless driving?
Road safety advocates and experts believe proper implementation of the new law will require everyone – from an official in the Road Transport and Highways Division, to a bus owner, to a pedestrian – to take responsibility, be aware of all the rules the law entails, and strictly follow them.
Md Saifun Newaz, assistant professor at the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said each and every citizen must abide by the law to ensure discipline on the roads.
“The drivers must carry valid driving licences, while transport owners must ensure that the drivers under their employment carry valid licences and that their vehicles have fitness certificates,” he told the Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday.
The ARI teacher also stressed the need for strict measures to prevent extortion in the road transport sector.
“For citizens, awareness must be raised so they don’t vandalize vehicles, but follow the regulations,” he added.
“According to the new law, the maximum fine for breaking traffic rules is Tk6,000 as opposed to Tk500 in the old, traffic police officials should ensure that they charge heavy fines of at least Tk1,000-2,000 to press home the severity of the situation,” he added.
Road accidents have been a major cause of unnatural deaths in Bangladesh. At least 64 people are killed in road crashes across Bangladesh on an average each day – most of them in Dhaka.
Analyzing police records, the ARI found that at least 3,000 road accidents take place in Bangladesh every year, killing around 2,700 people and injuring about 2,400.
These accidents cause economic losses worth around Tk400 billion every year, which amounts to is 2-3% of the country’s GDP.
The common problem
Majority of the victims in road accidents are pedestrians, while most accidents involve buses.
The latest data from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), shows there are over 3.5 million registered vehicles in the country, but valid licenses have been issued to only 2.6 million.
The authorities, however, do not have information on how many valid licence holders have not renewed their licences after expiry.
Meanwhile, most drivers of heavy vehicles have been found to be using light vehicles licences, experts said.
Road safety advocates say there are around 1.5 million illegal vehicles plying the roads and along with the registered vehicles, there are roughly over 2.4 million unqualified drivers putting their own lives and the lives of a large number of people at risk on a regular basis.
According to a report by Bangladesh Passengers’ Welfare Association (BPWA) published in April 2018, over 77% drivers in Bangladesh do not possess driving licences. The association also found that at least 87% of public transport drivers in Dhaka drive recklessly and violate traffic laws.
The BRTA says there are about 160,000 unfit vehicles in Bangladesh, but the passengers’ welfare association says the number is more than 300,000.
Following the July 29 accident, the High Court directed the government last week to constitute a National Neutral Specialist Committee to identify unfit vehicles.
Deadly intersections, careless pedestrians
An ARI study conducted in 2017 indicated that a total of 307 road accidents took place in the 54 busiest intersections of Dhaka between 2009 and 2015, claiming 198 lives and leaving 103 others injured.
Road safety advocates say footpaths in many places of the city have been taken over by hawkers and street vendors, forcing commuters to walk on the busy roads at the risk of getting hit by speeding traffic.
Another troubling issue is the tendency among public transport drivers to race one another on the roads, putting both passengers and pedestrians at risk, they added.
There are no zebra crossings for pedestrians in the places where footpaths are illegally occupied, and absence of automated traffic signs is responsible for unsafe pedestrian movement, they further said.
Furthermore, most of the foot-over bridges have not been installed in the right spots, and pedestrians are reluctant to use them. They opt to run across the busy streets, squeezing through metal fences on the central reservations, putting themselves at the risk of fatal accidents, experts said.
“Pedestrians must use foothpaths, but the foothpaths must be available for them,” said Ilias Kanachan, founder of the road safety advocacy group Nirapad Sharak Chai (We Want Safe Roads). “It is also important that buses pick up and drop off commuters from designated zones instead of random places on the road.”
In addition, foot-over bridges must be constructed in relevant areas because most accidents happen as people carelessly cross the roads, he told the Dhaka Tribune.
“For the new law to be properly implemented, citizens have a responsibility too,” he added.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, secretary general of the Bangladesh Passengers’ Welfare Association, expressed his frustration at the lack of response from Dhaka city authorities despite the 11 letters he had sent over the last eight years requesting zebra crossings on all the streets.
“Our roads don’t have zebra crossings, speed breakers and foot-over bridges. We need these instruments in order to ensure safe pedestrian movement,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Khandaker Enayetullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said if all parties concerned abide by the law, road safety can be ensured.