Thursday 18, August 2022
BN

Road safety still remains slow in action

News Desk: Road safety has remained elusive four years after nationwide student protests broke out in response to the deaths of two Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College students in a Dhaka accident in 2018.

The Road Transport Act of 2018, which was enacted following the death of the two students on July 29, 2018 because of reckless driving, has also not yet been fully implemented.

An initiative to amend the act based on proposals from transport owners and workers is underway while rules for the law are yet to be framed.

Most of these demands made by students and directives issued by the authorities remained on paper with no visible changes.

Even after several student protests for road safety in 2018, fatal accidents continue to occur on the roads.

Road safety experts and activists claimed that because the law had not yet been properly applied and continued to be violated, road safety was being undermined and things were getting worse.

Transport leaders said everyone must follow the law for safe roads.

‘If such a big movement cannot bring any change, then there is no more hope for us,’ said professor Shamsul Hoque of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

‘In 2018, student protests touched our morals, and this was enough to change our society,’ he said, adding, ‘But now we can say our character remains the same, and the road remains chaotic.’

Thousands of students took to the streets after their two fellows were killed when a reckless driver drove a Jabal-e-Noor company bus off the road and ploughed through a crowd while competing with another bus of the same company.

The students demanded the harshest penalties for the bus drivers who killed the two, footbridges and safety precautions for student’s movement, the installation of speed-breakers in accident-prone areas, such as in front of schools and colleges, the government’s taking full responsibility for the families of the deceased and injured, half-fare for students, not allowing unfit buses and unlicensed drivers on roads and a ban on extra passengers on public transport.

On June 25, 2018, prime minister Sheikh Hasina gave directives to ensure drivers’ rest every five hours, to employ alternate drivers for long-distance vehicles, training and resting facilities for drivers and their assistants, and use of seatbelts while travelling, and abide by the traffic signals.

According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, 2,635 people were killed in road accidents in 2018, 4,138 were killed in 2019, 3,918 were killed in 2020 and 5,088 people were killed in 2021.

BRTA prepared the report based on the first information from the police, which also indicated that road accidents were on the rise in Bangladesh.

‘There is no use in implementing some initiatives like the building of some footbridges and speed-breakers as these are for temporary solutions,’ said professor Shamsul Hoque.

‘We have not seen initiatives to bring long-term and sustainable changes to reduce deaths on roads,’ he said.

Following the student protests, Jatiya Sangsad on September 19, 2018 passed the Road Transport Bill, replacing the Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983.

Transport workers observed strikes in different districts against the enactment of the law.

The new law came into effect on November 1, 2019, more than 13 months after it was passed.

After protests from transport workers, the authorities allowed drivers to drive any vehicle with their existing licences till June 30, 2020 and asked them to obtain appropriate licences from the BRTA by then.

In a circular published earlier on August 28, 2018, the BRTA stated that public transportation drivers with legal professional driving licences for light vehicles and at least a year of experience could apply for licences for medium vehicles, and those with licences for medium vehicles and at least a year of experience could apply for licences for heavy vehicles.

Following several extensions, the facilities ended in June 2021.

‘What is the use of a new law if there is no implementation of this? Why, after almost every accident, do we still see that the vehicles involved do not have the fitness or the drivers do not have the appropriate licences?’ asked former ARI director Shamsul Hoque.

Supreme Court lawyer and Road Safety Foundation vice-president Jyotirmoy Barua doubted the effectiveness of the new law.

He said that the law encountered challenges during the implementation phase, and there was always uncertainty regarding its efficacy due to the system’s general failure.

‘Mismanagement, corruption, extortion and procession of deaths are still on the roads,’ he observed.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police additional commissioner (traffic) Munibur Rahman Khan said that they were trying to enforce the law.

‘Irregularities on roads are normal. The question is about the rate of irregularities,’ he said.

The Covid-induced lockdown affected the transport workers and owners, so when they were back on the roads, they became desperate to cover the losses, he said, adding that it might have caused some accidents on the roads.

Everyone needs to follow the law and should be careful to protect their own lives, said BRTA chairman Nur Mohammad Mazumder.

‘It will not be possible to ensure road safety unless everyone, including transport owners and employees and ordinary people, cares for their own lives and sincerely complies with the law,’ he said.

Former shipping minister Shajahan Khan, also the president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation, said that the law could not be implemented overnight.

He said that the law was under an amendment process, and it took time for a new law to become effective, adding that some initiatives like restrooms for drivers were underway.

‘We cannot say yet that roads are safe entirely,’ said former state minister Moshiur Rahman Ranga, also the president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association.

‘At many places, there are no roads at all, and at some places, work for four and six lanes is going on,’ he said.

He added that jaywalking, kitchen markets, three-wheelers and motorcycles on roads should be restricted for safety reasons.

The Road Transport and Highways Division’s additional secretary, Yousub Ali Mollah, said that the rules and the amendment of some sections of the new road law were under process.

The law cannot hold a driver liable for causing serious injuries by driving carelessly and recklessly, according to draft proposals. Additional proposals included lowering the minimum educational requirements for three-wheeler drivers and making offences linked to overloading and vehicle modification subject to bail.

SK

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