Traffic safety remains neglected despite recurring fatal accidents. Modified utility vehicles, known as human haulers, that are risky continue to run on the road in the Dhaka city. On July 17, at least three people died in a head-on collision between a bus and modified vehicle at Roopnagar in the city. According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, there are 18,025 registered modified utility vehicles in the country and 5,156 of them run on 159 routes in the capital. Although, they are only allowed on feeder roads, they often run on the main thoroughfares, including Manik Mia Avenue, Mirpur Road, Azimpur Road, Atish Dipankar Road and Satrasta Road. It is uncertain on what grounds the Regional Transport Committee has approved route permits of these vehicles. More shocking is that the Road Transport and Highways Division has no plan to take these vehicles off the road now. Neither the BRTA has any guideline on regulating the movement of these vehicles. The situation is testament to the systemic failure of all authorities concernd in keeping roads safe.
Modified utility vehicles are relatively more accident-prone because of underage driving. In the most recent accident at Roopnagar, one of the victims was the 10-year-old driver of the vehicle. Introduced in 2000, it was decided these four-wheelers will carry 12 passengers including the driver. In reality, this is not the case. A photograph that New Age published on Saturday shows several such over-crowded vehicles near Manik Mia Avenue. Traffic safety experts also raise question about the fitness of these modified vehicles as it is unclear how the maintenance work is done and monitored. Not only are these vehicles accident-prone, they are also environmentally hazardous as the worn-out engines continuously emit black smoke. According the Passengers’ Welfare Association of Bangladesh, such risky vehicles still run on the road in exchange for extortion money. They claim that a nexus of politicians, law enforcers, owners and workers’ associations collect between Tk 600 and Tk 800 from each vehicles daily and allow them to run on the road. Considering that there is no clear guideline on regulating and monitoring modified utility vehicles movement and no plans to take the risky vehicles off the road, their allegation that a vested-interest quarter is risking public safety for profiteering interest seems legitimate.
While all the authorities concerned need to immediately attend to the risk that the modified vehicles carry and work out a clear guideline on regulating them, it must address the larger problem of public transports in Dhaka. Modified utility vehicles were introduced as an interim measure to fulfil the immediate demand for public transports. Sadly, because of government’s failure to come up with a long-term, sustainable solution, the risky temporary measures has become one of the major modes of public transport in the city.
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