Dhaka Tribune Roundtable
Road accidents in Bangladesh have reached epidemic levels, with newspaper headlines reporting casualties on a daily basis.
However, the issue came into the limelight after students, mostly teenagers, took to the streets across the country demanding road safety after two students were killed and 12 others injured by a speeding bus racing with another in the Kurmitola area of Airport Road in the capital on July 29.
The student demonstrations continued for nine days, during which they checked the legal documents of vehicles and drivers, making them comply with the rules.
The road safety movement did win a concession from the government in the shape of the drafting of Road Transport Act 2018, which is currently awaiting approval by the parliament.
However, road safety campaigners say the new act will serve the interest of transport workers and labourers – and not the general public – as it was approved without consulting any passenger representative.
Reckless driving, a tendency to overtake, a lack of use of foot over bridges, and an overall disregard for traffic responsibility shown by pedestrians are the main reasons behind the frequent road accidents.
In light of this situation, Democracy International and Dhaka Tribune organized a roundtable titled “Road Safety in Bangladesh: Causes and Remedies,” at the conference hall of the Dhaka Tribune on September 30, under the Strengthening Political Landscape (SPL) project – a project implemented by Democracy International under “Narir Joye Shobar Joy” (When Women Win We All Win) Campaign, jointly funded by USAID and UKAID.
Lipika Biswas, Senior Program Manager at Democracy International in Bangladesh, moderated the discussion. The participants – which included politicians, heads of government and non-governmental organizations, transport owners, civil society members, and media personalities – highlighted the problems with the current traffic system, and recommended solutions to overcome the situation.
Speakers said that administrative intent, building awareness, and strict enforcement of laws are vital to bringing discipline to the country’s abysmal traffic system.
They called upon the government to take cautionary, effective, and prompt action to reduce this problem.
It was also pointed out that the number of illegal vehicles, and unskilled drivers that lack even the basic training, are major reasons for the failing system.
According to a recent survey conducted by the organization Nirapad Sarak Chai (NiSCha - We Demand Safe Roads), the number of road accidents in 2016 was 2,316, which grew to 3,349 in 2017 and, until September this year, stands at 2,672.
The speakers at the round-table also marked the fact that motorcycles and three-wheelers, including auto and electric rickshaws, were most commonly responsible for highway accidents alongside the reckless driving, unfit vehicles, and unlicensed drivers.
On average, 3,000 road accidents occur in Bangladesh each year, causing around 2,700 deaths, 2,400 injuries, and incurring an estimated loss of around Tk40,000 crore annually, which is 2-3% of Bangladesh’s GDP, according to data collected by stakeholders.
• Including road safety issue in textbooks
• Finding alternatives to road transportation and emphasizing on waterways and rail communication
• Constructing new rail lines connecting different regions
• Developing better traffic system and introducing mass transportation
• Banning local transports on highways
• Turning all highways into four-lane roads
• Developing improved road network and repairing and maintaining them properly
• Banning use of mobile phones while driving
• Introducing technology to control speeding on roads
• Stopping unlawful car parking
• Examining drivers’ qualification and ability before issuing licence
• Synchronizing the activities of BRTA and police
• Making footpaths occupancy-free
• Introducing dope test system for drivers
• Preventing competition between drivers on roads and highways
• Putting an end to extortion in transport sector
• Recruiting drivers with fixed salaries instead of the current trip-based agreement. In order to prevent overwork and fatigue of the drivers
• Empowering city mayors and getting city corporations and ministries concerned to work together to ameliorate traffic congestion in the capital
• Training highway police, sergeants, and drivers to bring order on the streets
• Introduction of bus route franchise system as a possible solution to the crisis
• Holding not only drivers accountable, but also commercial vehicle owners and police who enforce laws, who should also work together