Teaching children about traffic rules and road safety regulations should be a mandatory part of our school curriculum
As I am checking my social media account amidst studying for my PhD qualifiers, I am overwhelmed by the active participation of almost everyone on my friend list in support of students protesting against the tragic deaths of the accident victims and demanding better road safety regulations.
However, what also confuses me is many of those friends (I have known them for years) have themselves driven on the highways without having licenses or proper driving permits.
I have also known people who are now actively protesting against our authorities, for the obtaining of licenses without even going for the license test themselves. I agree that them being able to do so is the outcome of flaws and corruption in our system. However, is only the state responsible for making sure that everyone is following the road safety rules and regulations?
We, as citizens, also have an active part to play in this process. I have seen many teenage boys learning to drive by driving on highways without permits, and many parents are privy to that, yet they do not object.
Having observed it to be a common practice among people now strongly in support of the protesting children, would it be fair for us to blame the authorities entirely for not having adequate road safety rules? Also, just as the state is responsible for passing laws and enforcing them, we as citizens have responsibilities too.
My high school was in Uttara and on my way from Gulshan to Uttara, I remember the number of people running through the middle of the highway, not caring at all that there were speeding cars.
Many times, I had my driver complaining: “Apu oder ki jibon er bhoy nai, highwayr majkhane kibhabe na dekhei dour dei? Ekhon ekta accident hole kar dosh hobe?”
I agree that often bus drivers are at fault, but pedestrians also have to watch out for their own safety. For a moment, let us assume that the state is responsible for ensuring all these road safety regulations are in place; even then, we need to understand that changes cannot happen overnight.
Teaching children about traffic rules and road safety regulations should be a mandatory part of our school curriculum.
It is positive to see such participation by today’s youth in advocating road safety, and road safety is an issue which we can all relate to, as we all want our loved ones to be safe.
The objective of any kind of protest is to make the message heard to the authorities. In this case, the authorities have responded by promising to make changes towards greater road safety. Many students involved in the protests are mere teenagers, and any child development expert or psychologist would tell you that it is a tender age where you get excited easily, believing everything you see. Also it is not an appropriate age to be involved in such prolonged protests, as it can create a lifelong impact.
With the rise of social media, there is no shortage of videos reporting attacks on the protesting students. While in some videos it is clear that there have been attacks, it cannot be always be verified that those have been perpetrated by the parties that we are putting the blame on.
Bangladesh is now at a vulnerable stage, facing a threat of extremism and terrorism. As such, how can we ensure that those forces who are in a constant lookout for an opportunity like this will not take advantage of such a situation?
I myself have seen a lot of educated people freely sharing misleading pictures of rape victims in our neighbouring country on social media without verifying, and attributing those as violence caused by authorities or men in power.
Spreading pictures as such without verification can cause further clashes and injuries. Hence, when trying to spread content, we should be careful, because everything that is out there on social media is not necessarily true.
The engagement of our youth is something to be proud of, and their protests against the deaths of students are commendable. However, all of this should be wrapped up positively on a note that both the authorities and citizens should look forward to playing an active part in ensuring safer roads in the future, because so far, both parties have had their fair share of flaws.
Maliha Ahmed previously worked in research at BIDS and BIGD. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Economics at University of Illinois at Chicago.