The challenges for the new Road Transport Act are implementation and awareness
Road safety is increasingly being recognized as a priority in the national agenda. According to a report by the Shipping and Communication Reporters Forum (SCRF), a platform of journalists, based on news carried by 22 national dailies, 10 regional newspapers, and eight online news portals and news agencies, it was found that at least 2,329 people, including 291 women and 381 children, were killed, and 4,361 others injured in 2,159 road accidents across Bangladesh between January and June of 2019.
Another report on road accidents in Bangladesh also stated that at least 7,221 people were killed and 15,446 people were injured in 5,514 road accidents across the country in 2018. In 2017, 4,979 road crashes left 7,397 dead and 16,193 injured.
It is worth mentioning that, on average, 14 to 20 people die in road accidents in Bangladesh every day.
The long-awaited Road Transport Act (RTA) 2018 looked like a potential game-changer in the country’s transportation sector. Following the countrywide student outrage protesting road anarchy, the RTA was passed in parliament in mid-September last year.
The act covers a plethora of accidents under different legal shadows and punishments. In this act, the most desired provision is on road accidents leading to the death and severe injury of the people.
Section 105 of the Act provides a holistic provision and states that “no matter what this act contains, if anybody gets seriously injured or killed in a motor vehicle-related accident, it would be considered an offense under the relevant sections of the Penal Code 1860. However, no matter what section 304(B) of the Penal Code contains, if anybody causes an accident by reckless and negligent driving, and kills or injures someone severely, such a person would face a maximum sentence of five years in jail or fine or both.”
Thirty-three years ago, the maximum punishment for causing death by reckless and negligent driving was a jail term of seven years under section 304B of the Penal Code. But in the face of truckers’ protests in 1985, the then Ershad government reduced the term of imprisonment to three years by amending the Penal Code.
Anguished over growing incidents of reckless driving, road safety campaigners have long been demanding that the government increase the punishment to at least 10 years for causing death to a person by rash driving. Following a writ petition that challenged the 1985 amendment, the High Court in a 2014 verdict declared void the amendment that reduced the jail term.
“Reducing the penalty of such a crime of reckless driving resulting in death to others is disproportionate and unreasonable to the offenses,” the honorable High Court observed.
Apart from section 304B of the Penal Code 1860, there are some sections on the road accidents too. Section 279 provides punishment for driving or riding on a public way in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person. The punishment for that is up to three years, or with fine or with both.
Section 338A postulates provision for causing grievous hurt by rash driving or riding on a public way so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others and the punishment is imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Under the Road Transport Act 2018, the Sections 279, 338A, and 304B of the Penal Code will be applied for road accidents which will be read with Section 105 of RTA.
The challenge for implementation of this law is enforcement and public awareness. In this act, the responsibilities of BRTA and the police and their ability to carry them out are the core and cornerstone of its success.
The governance of both authorities is answerable to the people. The capacity of BRTA offices and traffic police should be enhanced to cope with the demand.
The rules under this act should light the path forward, and these rules need to be finalized as soon as possible.
Md Zakir Hossain is a member of the Bangladesh Judicial Service and a Senior Judicial Magistrate, Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Feni.