Chaos in the street, caused by both reckless driving and jaywalking, often leads to fatal accidents. How to stop it?

­­— New Age/Sourav Lasker

­­— New Age/Sourav Lasker

It has become a routine matter that once you open the newspaper, you are greeted by the dreadful news of fatal road accidents and people losing their nearest and dearest ones.
Current statistics indicate that deaths in road accidents in our country have reached one of the highest in number in the world. A recent study conducted by Accident Research Centre of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology revealed that road and river transport accidents in Bangladesh claim one person every 45 minutes and Bangladesh ranks number one among the most accident-prone countries.
It has been observed that the main offenders in the occurrences of these unpardonable offences are bus and truck drivers who are engaged in reckless driving with fake licences, not adhering to speed limitations, safety rules and regulations. The situation has gone beyond control day by day as in most of the cases the culprits go away unpunished and if caught are freed due to their strong political connections. Lack of any strong disciplinary actions and political commitment of the decision makers has further aggravated the situation. The people at large are frustrated by the foot-dragging of all political regimes, in the past and present, over arresting the criminals and punishing them. The citizens are fed up with the formation of so called enquiry committees most of which end up with no positive outcome. The public wants actions. We urge the government to take drastic actions against the perpetrators to minimise the number of road accidents.
The road accidents in Bangladesh may principally be attributed to the following factors:  reckless driving, untrained drivers, issuance of fake driving licenses, vehicles driven by helpers and conductors, vehicles driven in a drunken state, vehicles driven while talking over mobile phone, non-stop running of vehicles by drivers, violation of traffic rules and regulations, poorly maintained roads, unfit vehicles, lack of monitoring and supervision, practices in corruption by law enforcers and absence of road safety features.
Several vulnerable spots have been identified on the national highways of the country. Regrettably, actions to improve the condition of these spots are moving at snail’s pace. In all the major bends, the radius of curvatures and sight distance appear to be significantly inadequate leading to colossal road disasters. It is noticeable that accidents mostly occur at these bends.
There were 595 reported fatal accidents over the period of 2009-2014, which claimed about 3075 lives and injured at least 8427 people .On an average at least 126 fatal accidents occur in each year resulting in 4.85 fatalities and 14.7 casualties in each accident.
The benefits of safety measures fell short of expectations owing to their lack of enforcement.
In this regard, the introduction of a highway surveillance team consisting of local community leaders could be a good move to control the use of roadway marginal areas for such purposes as drying of agricultural products, grazing by domestic animals, playing games by children, temporary markets and plying of unlicensed vehicles.
Controlling the speed of transports appears to be the most effective way to reduce the number of accidents in Bangladesh and this can be ensured by the traffic police department.
Drivers of heavy vehicles should be properly trained by the authorities concerned.
The global warning has indicated that over the next 10 years developing countries like Bangladesh will experience an alarming increase in road accidents and casualties. But we are facing the problem right now. Addressing the safety issues, thus, emerges as a serious challenge in the absence of requisite transport safety professionals and resources. However, the government needs to arrange for these and take positive steps. Pedestrians including children are mostly the victims of fatal accidents on highways. There is an urgent need for improving the condition of roads. All relevant departments should also put forth their concerted efforts to see that rules and regulations for improving road safety are stringently enforced in no time. Initiatives to improve the situation would require the government’s commitment and support to this end.
         Shabnam Talukder Barsha
School of Law
BRAC University
‘Chaos’ means a state of complete disorder and confusion; according to an English   dictionary, it also means anarchy, commotion, turmoil, madness and unruliness. ‘Reckless driving’ means driving vehicles without any thought of danger and other undesirable consequences. ‘Jaywalking’ means crossing streets carelessly or through places other than designated crossings. So, the words ‘chaos in the street, caused by both reckless driving and jaywalking’ give us a spine-chilling impression.
Driving is a goal-oriented, stressful and anger provoking activity. Usually anger along with situational, cultural, and other factors lead the drivers to the wheel of vehicles. They, more often than not, behave abnormally. Over the last few years, I have been on the streets with a self-driven car and, hence, I have become familiar with the chaos in the streets caused by jaywalking and reckless driving. Driving usually includes speeding, racing, frequently changing lanes, cutting off other drivers, failing to signal, running red lights, tailgating, slowing rapidly to discourage a tailgater, boxing other cars in, using other intimidation maneuvers and hit-and-run crashes.
Driving is mainly of two types: safe driving and dangerous driving; and according to the behaviour of drivers, dangerous driving may be classified as careless, reckless, aggressive and road rage. Careless driving involves failure to exercise normal care, which injures or kills people and damages property. Reckless driving is a more serious form of careless driving. Aggressive driving results from many of the same behaviours covered by reckless driving edicts, but add a notion of behaviour occurring over a short period resulting from aggression, selfishness, or competition. Road rage is an extreme form of aggression that involves criminal intimidation, intent to harm, and use of the vehicle as a weapon. As far as the commoners’ perception is concerned, all forms of dangerous driving are termed reckless driving.
The word ‘jaywalk’ is a compound word derived from the word ‘jay’, an inexperienced person, and walk. Jaywalking takes place with violations of regulations while crossing a road. People jaywalk for various reasons, including convenience, impracticality, and sometimes even personal safety. While crossing a road, pedestrians in most of the countries are advised to wait until it is safe to cross. It is frequently more of a necessity that a pedestrian ignores the rules. But the individual is rarely punished outside of VIP roads and important commercial hubs. Although in Bangladesh there are hardly any laws to punish for jaywalking, as part of the campaign for public awareness, the authorities sometimes carry out special mobile court drives to stop people from crossing busy roads without using footbridges or underpasses.
Jaywalking across the streets of cities of Bangladesh is in the severest form, if compared to that in other countries. The reasons behind this are multifarious. A few of those can be mentioned as lack of awareness, faulty layouts of cities and towns, excess traffic density, unfriendly traffic signals for  pedestrians, entrance and exit of thousands of people in the cities and towns, lack of facilities for pedestrians, inadequate and non-user-friendly footpaths, footbridges and underpasses, occupation of footpaths, footbridges and underpasses by vendors, beggars and others,  lack of enforcement of laws to free pedestrians’ facilities, tendency of violation of traffic laws,  unwillingness of the citizens to use pedestrians’ facilities, and the anthropological inheritance of the intention by the people to use short-cuts.
According to a recent study carried out by the Accident Research Centre (ARC) of BUET, road accidents claim on an average 12,000 lives annually and lead to about 35,000 injuries. According to the World Bank statistics, annual casualty rate from road accidents is found to be 85.6 per 10,000 vehicles. Whatever might be the exact figure, we feel sad for the fatalities and casualties of each accident.
According to the statistics, almost 70 per cent of the accidents taking place on the highways have roots to reckless driving. The others have roots to jaywalking, fake driving license, inadequate punishment for  causing accidents, unskilled drivers, faulty roads and highways,  ignoring traffic rules, violating traffic signals and road signs, using mobile phone while driving and driving for long hours.
It is the law which can halt both reckless driving and jaywalking. British India enacted its first Motor Vehicles Act in 1914 after commercialisation of motor vehicles in the year 1908 by Henry Ford. Within the next 25 years the act was deemed to be obsolete and redundant and hence it was replaced by a new act, the Motor Vehicle Act, 1939. Throughout the next 70 years the Motor Vehicle Act, 1939 went through three consecutive changes, East Pakistan Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 (1947), the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 (1972) and Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983 (MVO 1983).
According to the experts, the existing MVO 1983 is lacking adequate punishment for reckless and dangerous driving, possessing fake licence and for having no helmet and seat belts. It is also lacking provisions for non-usages of mobile phone while driving, regulating pedestrians and non- motorised transports. The Proposed Road Transport and Traffic Act, 2011, by Dhaka Transport Coordination Board (DTCB), has tried to address these drawbacks and suggested a revision of the existing acts.
According to the Penal Code, 1860 (chapter xiv of offences affecting the public health, safety, convenience, decency and morals), the maximum punishment for causing death due to reckless driving was seven years’ imprisonment. On October 10, 1985 during the military regime, the law was amended commuting the sentence of jail term to three years from seven years. Recently, the impugned penal law was declared illegal and unconstitutional by the High Court which challenged the validity of the amendments brought during the said regime. The High Court suggested that to ensure people’s right to life as guaranteed by the constitution, the retribution for reckless driving should be increased further.
Shouldn’t we need to prevent these fatal accidents? We may not be able to totally stop it but we can make a check and balance. Periodic updating of the traffic laws, their stringent enforcement, developing the infrastructure keeping pace with the growth of population, planned urbanisation, proper planning for maintenance of roads and highways, suitable layouts for the development of cities and towns, decentralisation, building social awareness and mass education are some of the measures that can change the scenario.
I cannot stop myself here to cite an empirical law called Smeed’s Law. The law, named after R J Smeed, can be expressed as: D=0.0003(np2)1/3, where D is annual road deaths, n is the number of registered vehicles, and p is population. It is an experimental rule relating to traffic fatalities due to traffic congestion as measured by the proxy of motor vehicle registrations and the population of a country. It expresses a hypothesis of group psychology: people take advantage of the improvements in automobiles or infrastructure to drive more recklessly until deaths rise to a socially unacceptable level, at which point, safety becomes more important, and recklessness less tolerated.
How much should we tolerate? The answer will lead us to the desired goal.
Hossain Md Aktar
Deputy project director (STEP)
Directorate of technical education
Ministry of Education
The scene of people gathering by the side of a road is now very common. Particularly, in Dhaka city, our foot-paths are occupied by the hawkers. They sell our daily commodities. Pedestrians, therefore, cannot walk smoothly. Some people bargain with the hawkers, some keep talking, some are engaged in bickering and some keep standing to take a bus or a rickshaw. Buses and other slow-moving vehicles stop to take passengers here and there. Buses are often found stopping anywhere they like. Political parties bring out processions shouting slogans and demanding solutions to their problems. These things are the common features of our daily life. It is, thus, not difficult for us to show why there are traffic congestions on city roads. I think that our country has a lot of rules and regulations. But they are only in papers. Lack of their proper enforcement has resulted in traffic congestions and sometimes fatal accidents with loss of lives and limbs. None cares to abide by the rules in the absence of their proper enforcement. Innumerable cars plying the streets of Dhaka are mostly culpable for the congestion even on roads where no rickshaws are allowed. They are parked where they are not supposed to; they stop where they are not supposed to; they violate signals at almost every opportunity. Then, of course, there are city buses that ply with impunity, as it were, disregarding traffic rules and running red lights till they are virtually stopped manually by the traffic police in crossings.
Time and again, different quarters have argued that stringent enforcement of traffic rules and regulations, and routine examination of fitness certificate and other relevant documents of motorised vehicles and driving licences of their drivers could play a major role in bringing down the number of road traffic accidents and fatalities. It has been pointed out many times that reckless driving, especially by bus and truck drivers, continues unabated because there has hardly been any decisive and demonstrative actions against such an obvious violation of traffic rules and regulations. Both within city parameters and on highways, bus and minibus drivers break the law at will. However, members of the law enforcement agencies, in most cases, look the other way. Even if law enforcers stop the offenders, which is quite rare, most of them dodge punitive measures, allegedly on payment of bribes. In the end, prohibitive legal precedents, required to prevent such activities, are not set. To prevent accidents and concomitant casualties, the authorities concerned must order competent and credible inquiry into each accident and have the responsible individuals prosecuted and punished exemplarily.
What needs to be pointed out is that if the government really means to be serious about easing traffic congestion such seriousness is indeed welcome but would count for little if it does not lead to a comprehensive strategy to solve the intractable traffic snarls. Till now such a strategy seems to be missing as the government has appeared to move from one experiment to another in its bid to ease the traffic situation, which, many believe, has aggravated the situation.
All we need is an efficient mass transit system to ease the traffic congestion and mitigate the sufferings of the ordinary masses. That is to say, traffic management must be streamlined to deal with the endless traffic snarls. The authorities also need to realise that the enforcement of rules is a prime requisite for bringing in order in traffic movement and thus ensuring safety of passengers and pedestrians alike. Such enforcement also entails demonstrative punishment for offenders.
Azmari Zannat
Tangi .

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