SDG 11.2 calls to “provide access to safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons” by 2030.
The aspirations set by the SDGs now require that the Bangladesh government needs to expedite its efforts in coordinating road safety actions.
Given the demographic challenges and the standard of civic responsibilities, citizens’ engagement is required to get the legislation enforced effectively for greater social good.
Deaths and damage to property caused by road accidents have become a daily phenomenon in Bangladesh, a country that has one of the worst crash rates in the world -- at more than 60 per 10,000 registered motor vehicles. Studies explored multi-faceted causes of road crashes ranging from population explosion, unplanned urbanisation, and tremendous growth of vehicles.
What to do
Road crashes, which are caused by human or mechanical failure, negligence, or a combination of many other unknown factors, should be dealt with the principles of prevention, attention, and compensation. In any attempt to reduce fatalities from road accidents, realistic legislations and effective enforcement are necessary.
During the pre-accident period, prevention and attention are associated with the capacity and skills of stakeholders where we do not have sufficient institutional arrangement or strength. Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) -- the sole government agency that looks after the capacity, accreditation, and licensing of vehicles -- and operators notably lack the skills and manpower to meet the rising demand.
The post-accident period, called the “golden hour” -- that is, the first one hour after a road crash -- is critical when early medical care might prevent fatalities. But, historically, both the private and public health services in South Asia, including Bangladesh, are negligent about emergency medical services to accident victims.
In addition, Good Samaritans considering helping victims fear legal consequences, harassment, involvement in litigation, and repeated visits to police stations.
We need our roads and highways to improve fast, lest we want to witness something truly tragic during the holiday seasons
To bring about changes in these practices, the Good Samaritan Law was enacted on May 2015 in India following a directive of their Supreme Court.
Responding to a writ petition by BLAST, in February 2016, the High Court division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh also issued “Rule Nisi” asking the Director General of Health Services and Secretary of Ministry of Health, Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges, and Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council to pursue directions and frame guidelines, making all hospitals and clinics provide mandatory emergency medical services to the victims of any road crash.
A study conducted by BRAC pointed out that road crash-related fatalities are just not an inevitable concomitant of development, but that such fatalities can be addressed and minimised through judicious and timely action.
Weak, inefficient, and traditional investigation process of the road crashes, have posed as a hurdle to justice for road crash victims. Road safety experts and activists have been demanding specialised road crash investigation mechanisms with institutional capacity.
In the crash that caused the death of Tareque Masud and Ashfaque Munier Mishuk, we found that at the time of the accident it was raining heavily which, according to the road safety experts, was not the only reason for the collision.
Dr Md Shamsul Hoque, a professor of civil engineering at BUET, analysed the accident and showed that neither the microbus nor the bus which collided head-on were solely liable, rather the accident was triggered by an easy bike.
The traditional habit of accusing the operators of the vehicles under collision has been an obstacle to proper investigation and in providing immediate medical care to the victims, which is incosistent with the jurisprudential issues of the proposed Road Transport (draft) Act 2017.
Constant costs of crashes
Current legislative initiatives around road and transport merely focus on safety issues, ignoring the economic aspects of the sector. A study shows that, in low and middle income countries, cost of road traffic-related injuries lie between 1-2% of their GDP, which clearly suggests that a country like Bangladesh should adopt immediate measures to reduce losses caused by road crash and keep pace with the nation’s transition to a middle income economy.
Slow progress of reforming road safety legislation clearly misses the constantly-shifting ground realities.
To make the proposed Road Transport (draft) Act 2017 work, the following issues need to be considered:
Current reform initiatives of the road transport legislation should not only focus on road safety issues, but also focus on the economic potential of the sector
To ensure effective enforcement of the Road Transport (draft) Act 2017, enactment of a Good Samaritan Law and guideline for the emergency medical services agencies should be formulated in the shortest possible time
The National Road Safety Council should be made made more functional, having periodic interaction with the sub-national and regional road safety committees
An independent and rigorous investigation mechanism needs to be introduced, with expertise on engineering, legislative, and enforcement aspects of road safety with representation from national and regional road safety committees
The road safety legislation should clearly spell out the monitoring mechanism for speed control and fitness of the vehicles, including installation of traffic signs and their management
We need our roads and highways to improve fast, lest we want to witness something truly tragic during the holiday seasons.
Sadrul Hasan Mazumder is the Program Coordinator, Advocacy for Social Change, BRAC, and Coordinator, Safe Road and Transport Alliance (SROTA).