As our private sector grows, the need for more concrete road safety laws will only increase
Bangladesh has just witnessed a large-scale student movement protesting the lack of road safety and demanding that the government take action. Roads in Bangladesh are indeed some of the most dangerous and accident-prone in the world, and we will all be much safer if the government does indeed take action to enforce existing traffic laws and proper training and licensing of all drivers.
However, the fact remains that a large number of the cars, buses, and trucks on the roads are owned by private individuals and companies. The question is how those private owners/companies can prevent accidents on the part of their vehicles.
Here I would like to share some experiences of my company, Kazi Farms Group (www.kazifarms.com), which is the largest poultry company in the country. Our core business is producing eggs in poultry farms in North Bengal and transporting them to locations all over Bangladesh by truck.
These involve many trucks travelling the length of Bangladesh every day. As a company, we have taken a number of initiatives for transport safety which I would like to share.
The first element of safety is having properly trained drivers. All our drivers have to have a valid license. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to get a copy of each driver’s license -- due to the proliferation of false licenses, we verify all drivers’ licenses with BRTA. Also, the date of expiry of all driver’s licenses is stored in the HR module of our company’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. So, each month, the drivers whose licenses are expiring can be identified and sent to renew them.
The second element of safety is controlling driving time. Bangladeshi law prohibits drivers from driving more than eight hours a day. This is a common-sense law, as after eight hours of driving anyone will become too tired to safely control a vehicle.
Since our organization requires very long trips, transporting eggs from Panchagar in the north to Chittagong and Barisal in the south, we have established transport offices in mid-way points like Sirajgonj and Dhaka so that drivers can be changed before they become too tired.
The third element of safety is monitoring vehicles while driving. This is accomplished by fitting each vehicle with Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking systems. This enables a vehicle control centre in Dhaka, which is staffed 24 hours in three shifts, to check the current location and speed of each truck continuously.
The GPS sensors in the truck can trigger an alarm whenever the driver goes too fast. However, the driver can possibly ignore the alarm if they are in a hurry. However, if they receive phone calls from the control centre telling them to slow down, they will understand that someone is monitoring their driving and so they are likely to drive more carefully.
All the above increase safety, but they do cost money. Licensed drivers demand higher salaries than unlicensed drivers. Paying two drivers to divide a long trip into short segments is more expensive than paying a single driver for the same trip. GPS systems and trip monitoring staff also cost money. However, for a business like Kazi Farms, which is transporting fragile eggs, even a small improvement in driving brings less broken eggs and saves money.
Controlling and monitoring transport with GPS also helps prevent corruption and theft of fuel. We have measured each of our vehicle trips and establishing a standard “kilometres per litre” for each trip -- our company ERP software records the actual fuel consumed by each trip and each driver.
The standard function of ERP software is to provide reports of standard costs versus actual costs for different operations such as manufacturing and transport. This enables us to identify which drivers are using too much fuel and take action against them. So it’s not true that increasing control and compliance in transport only costs money, it can also save money.
More relevant to the rest of the country is the fact that these practices also save lives. My hope is that other Bangladeshi companies will also adopt practices similar to the above to improve road safety and reduce accidents.
The fact is that, as Bangladesh grows, the private sector is going to become an increasing fraction of all economic activity. So, public safety will ultimately depend on safety measures taken within the private sector as well as law enforcement by the government.
Zeeshan Hasan is a director of Kazi Media, the company behind Deepto TV. He is also the managing director of Sysnova.