ROAD fatalities continue as the government failed to take any effective steps to ensure traffic safety. The Passengers’ Welfare Association of Bangladesh says at least 339 people died in 277 accidents during Eid-ul-Fitr holidays. The National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways says that at least 2,471 people died in 2,353 road accidents in the past six months. On June 23, 18 people died in a fatal road accident on the Bogra-Rangpur Highway at Palashbari in Gaibandha. Investigations later revealed that the bus driver, who carried a forged licence, dozed off on the wheel. Most of the recent accidents were due to reckless driving and exhaustion of drivers as they were on the wheel for long hours. In this context, the prime minister on June 25 issued directives, among other issues, regarding driver’s rest every five hours of driving and additional drivers on long-distance routes. It is unacceptable that no major initiative but one inter-ministerial meeting was held so far to work out an action plan to implement the directives.
In addition to ensuring driver’s rest and additional drivers on long-distance routes, the directives included training facilities for drivers and their assistants so that they can be more mindful to road safety rules. It is common for drivers to not use seatbelts as they do not consider it as a safety gear. Asked about the inaction in directive implementation, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority said that they they do not have adequate training infrastructure to immediately train such a large number of drivers. There are 120 registered driving schools, 174 licensed instructors and 17 driver training institutions that are insufficient to serve the purpose. However, Road Transport and Highways Division maintains that the directive on ensuring driver’s rest has already been implemented. Brushing aside their claim, transport leaders said that it would take time to implement the directive as there is shortage of drivers now. There are 34.19 lakh registered vehicles while the number of driving licence holders is 24.5 lakh. Transport leaders say that it will take time and require collaborative efforts involving all stakeholders to bridge the gap. The kind of irregularities that prevails in the transport sector will not be resolved overnight. The authorities, however, must know that with their inaction, they are risking lives of citizens.
The authorities, under the circumstances, must urgently take up initiatives to improve and expand training facilities so that more drivers can be properly trained to meet the demand for drivers. Meanwhile, the authorities must remain vigilant and ensure that no one with forged licence is on the wheel. For a long-term solution, the government must unburden the road transport sector by strengthening the railway and inland water transport system.
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