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2 December, 2019 10:38:39 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 2 December, 2019 02:34:18 PM


No respite from road accidents

No respite from road accidents

Despite mass protests and an outcry by the general public, there has been no respite from recurrent road accidents and related fatalities across the country.

While the government has enacted a new law and is in the process of implementing it, the traffic situation in Dhaka and across the country has seen little or no improvement.

On average, 24 people die everyday across the country, according to Jatri Kalyan Samity, a passenger welfare platform. The platform obtained the data by following daily media reports. 

On the other hand, a survey by the Bangladesh Health Injury Survey (BHIS), 2016, said that on an average, 64 people die every day from injuries suffered in traffic accidents.

These shocking figures belie daily media reports of deaths caused by road crashes, indicating that such fatalities go grossly underreported.

The deaths of two students—Abdul Karim Razib and Dia Khanam Mim—of Shaheed Romijuddin Cantonment College on Airport Road after they were hit by a Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan bus in July last year can be seen as a turning point in road safety movements across the country.

A massive road safety movement was organised after this incident, which led to the formulation of the Road Transport Act, 2018, which came into force from November 1, 2019. The incident actuated students to demand safer roads and stricter traffic laws, and the demonstrations rapidly spread throughout Bangladesh.

What happened after the accident?

The protesters had put forward a set of demands before the government. These included strictly enforcing traffic laws, ensuring safe roads and eradicating corruption in the transport sector.

Furthermore, they sought harsh punishment for traffic violators, 0including the death penalty for reckless drivers. In response to the protests, the national authorities launched ‘Traffic Week’, a week-long road safety programme, and ‘Traffic Month’, a month-long programme.

Following this, the traffic department has become more concerned about these issues. Awareness programmes are being carried out everyday to make people and commuters more conscious. It was not possible to meet the demands as transport workers also protested and stopped operating bus services across the country and demanded security for themselves.

However, despite increasing vigilance by traffic police, it is nigh impossible to discipline traffic on the streets of Dhaka, as pedestrians continue their merry habit of jaywalking and drivers carry on with reckless driving. Road safety advocates and urban experts, however, still bat for continuous programmes like successive traffic weeks round the year because the mindset of commuters takes time to change.

In that particular incident on July 29 last year, at least 297 persons were killed in road accidents in the capital city Dhaka. And around 38 per cent of these victims were pedestrians.

There is no decrease in the number of deaths due to road accidents in the city. These figures were revealed by the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). The ARI statistics were from 1 July 2018 to 1 July 2019. Of these deaths, 46 took place on the Airport Road alone.

According to the institute’s report, 276 died of road accidents in 2017 in the city.

Government’s stance

However, after all these protests, the government took a stand to instil discipline on the roads. Earlier, on June 25, 2018, at a weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued a set of directives, including rest for drivers for every five hours of driving and alternative drivers for long distance transports, training for drivers and their assistants, resting places for transport workers and mandatory use of seatbelts.

The PM issued the directives against the backdrop of rising incidents of road accidents, mostly caused by reckless driving and exhaustion of drivers from long driving hours.

The directives are still largely ignored while transport leaders cite a dearth of drivers, especially trained ones, as the major problem. However, on October 22, in order to impart more discipline to our roads and highways, an official gazette was announced that the Road Transport Act, 2018, will come into force from November 1 this year. The Road Transport Act, 2018, is basically a modified version of the Motor Vehicle Ordinance Act, 1983. The offences mentioned in the two laws are literally the same; rather the penalty has been augmented in the new law. The general goal of enforcing this law is to warn people and drivers by enforcing greater punishment than before, lest people should break rules.

The authorities started enforcing the Road Transport Act on November 17, two weeks after the law came into effect. Transport workers organised wildcat strikes in different districts from November 18, while truck workers and owners called an indefinite strike on November 19, demanding amendments to the law. Later, the government decided not to penalise commercial vehicles for violations of several key sections of the Road Transport Act, 2018, until June next year.

What experts and activists say

Talking to The Independent, Dr M Shafiq-Ur Rahman, an expert on transport and planning, said a proper system can be implemented in an experimental way, but making it work across Dhaka is likely to be complicated if the number of vehicles was not reduced.

“To implement the law, the Traffic Division and the authorities concerned must be stricter in dealing with all types of vehicles,” he added.

Ilias Kanchan, chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai, blamed the authorities as they did not coordinate the Act fully before it has implemented. Talking to The Independent over telephone he said, “There are no rules in the new transport Act and that will be very unfortunate when you implement it. The government should have worked more carefully on the Act,” he said.

He emphasised the coordination of all stakeholders involved in the Act, adding that there was a committee to make the rules but they did not work effectively to make them. “The machines the Traffic Division uses to fine the law-breakers have not been updated. How are the authorities unaware of it?” he added.

Kanchan added that a flawed transport system, mismanagement of owners, lack of monitoring, weak traffic management, lack of awareness among people, reckless speeding, poor road construction, lack of political will and a lack of proper implementation of the law are the other reasons behind road accidents.

Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, the secretary-general of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, said that bringing discipline to the roads was the bigger challenge for the government as it had not taken any initiatives earlier to make it effective.

Talking to The Independent over telephone, Mozammel said: “After the deaths of two students and the student-led protests for safer roads, it seems nothing has happened in this sector.”

Mozammel cited the new Transport Act and said that there was discipline for one week after the Act was implemented, but the scenario is now the same as before because no one cares about implementing the law properly.

“On an average, 24 people die everyday across the country, but, till now, no serious measures have been taken by the authorities to resolve the situation. Most of the divers have no licences; they are uneducated and not heedful of passengers,” he observed.

When a new law is enacted, the first and foremost task is to let people know about the new law through campaigning, by distributing leaflets, etc. Unfortunately, the publicity by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and administrative bodies has not been sufficient in this respect, he noted.




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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