THE cabinet’s approval of the draft Road Transport Bill 2018 with a provision of a maximum five years’ jail and fines for rash and negligent driving causing deaths or serious injuries came on Monday in the wake of street protests by students demanding safe roads and justice for two of their fellows killed in a bus accident in Dhaka on July 29. The exisiting Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983 proviions for a maximum of three years’ jail and Tk 2.5 million in fines for the same offence. But a new law is highly unlikely to deter such accidents unless the laws are stringently enforced. There have already been laws, several of them, for the maintenance of discipline on the roads and to attend to the problems that have so far plagued the road transport administration. The situation, over all, has come to this pass only because of no, or poor, enforcement of the relevant laws and corruption in the system. The students who had taken to the streets wanted to resolve the issue of road traffic accidents, that have been taking so many lives almost every day for years across the country. Their cardinal objective was to ensure the enforcement of the laws.
Besides, the draft of the law ignores two verdicts of the High Court Division, given on November 20, 2014, where the court — while striking down an ordinance of the martial law era that stipulated three years’ jail for a driver involved in fatal road accident — said that seven years’ jail was ‘insufficient’ for a driver causing death by reckless driving, and on December 7, 2015, where the court directed the government to make a law provisioning for deterrent punishment for causing death by reckless driving, as recommended by a committee preparing the guideline for the prevention of road accidents on highways. The draft law, in this, is against the spirit of the High Court Division verdict. Different quarters have time and again argued for a stringent enforcement of traffic rules and regulations and other laws that could have brought in discipline in the road transport sector. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there seems to be a general lack of appreciation for human lives on part of the authorities concerned. It is expected that the expression of protests and demand for redress will bring the authorities out of their indifference and prompt them into coming up with a comprehensive strategy and a multi-pronged approach to bring order in the traffic system.
The law enforcers do not always show the desired urgency to enforce the rules and regulations, and penalise the violators. To bring down the number of road accidents, an effective system of accountability needs to be put in place whereby not only reckless drivers will be made to face the consequences for their actions but also the law enforcers will be called to account for their inactions.
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