THE death of two students and the subsequent nationwide protests compelled the government to draft a road transport law. However, the unholy alliance between transport authorities and owners that turned the transport sector a deadly affair remained unaddressed in the bill. Urban planners have alleged that the bill has sidestepped public interest and protected the interest of transport owners and workers. Experts and passenger rights activists have sought harsher punishment in cases of death from road accidents, but the demand has not been reflected in the bill. The bill provisions for five years’ jail and fines as the highest punishment for rash and negligent driving that might cause deaths or serious injuries. It does not also have any provision for making the transport owner legally accountable for their negligence and running vehicles without fitness certificates. Experts’ allegation that the associations of transport owners and workers have used clout to keep themselves safe from deterrent punishment appears to be true.
In the past three years, traffic accidents had claimed, on an average, about 20 lives a day. Unskilled drivers are partly to blame, but the system that allows unskilled drivers and unfit vehicles on the road have not been held to account. Any government effort to address the problem in the sector was impeded by transport owners. The National Road Safety Council blamed a syndicate of ranking government and law enforcement officials, trade unions and extortionists for intentionally keeping the road sector chaos alive to their own benefits. The Transparency International, Bangladesh has also demanded that the shipping minister, also executive president of the transport workers’ federation, and the minister of state for LGRD and cooperatives, president of the transport owners’ association, should be removed from the cabinet as they stand in conflict of interest. The government could have drafted the law in consultation with organisations representing the voice and concerns of the passengers, including the Nirapad Sarak Chai and the Passengers’ Welfare Association of Bangladesh, and the Accident Research Institute. Instead, it appears that the government has yet again bowed down to the demand of transport owners.
The way the road transport law is drafted shows that the main intention of the incumbents was to ease road safety protests by students, not to sustainably resolve corruption and irregularities in the transport sector. The law should have have a provision to bring negligent vehicle owners and transport companies who risks lives of ordinary citizens by allowing underage and unskilled driving. In order to ensure greater accountability in the transport sector, the law must have a provision to compensate the victims of traffic accident. With this provision in place, transport company owners and insurers, in their own interest, could be motivated to support driver’s education, more stringent enforcement of vehicle fitness protocol and first-party insurance for all public transports.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial