THE cabinet division approved the draft of the Road Transport Act 2018 on August 6, 2018. If passed into law, it will replace the existing Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983. As the draft of the proposed law has not been made public yet, it is not possible to comment on it in details. However, the provisions of the proposed law, particularly the provision regarding punishment, has elicited concern of civil society actors.
According to the proposed law, the maximum punishment for breaking traffic rules is six months’ jail or Tk 3 lakh in fine or both as opposed to four months’ jail or Tk 5,000 in fine as laid out in the existing law. Additionally, under the proposed law, a convict will get the maximum punishment of five years in jail along with Tk 5,00,000 fine for fatal road accidents and capital punishment for ‘voluntary’ fatal road accident.
According to civil society actors, the punishment under the proposed law is not proportionate with the crime — the punishment for fatal road accidents, in particular. Under the proposed law, convicts will get the maximum punishment, if they cause death or severe injury by way of reckless driving or negligence in driving. The offences are also non-bailable. The proposed law introduces specific guidelines on the minimum age and academic qualifications for drivers, number of vehicles on a particular route, working hours for drivers and driver’s assistants for buses, trucks, covered vans and other vehicles, compensation for road accident victims, emergency helpline, and more, which are not there in the existing law.
The draft also proposed an increased punishment for driving unregistered and unfit vehicles and for driving without licences and route permits. Under the proposed law, for driving without licenses, the punishment is six months in jail or a fine of Tk 25,000. For driving unregistered vehicles, the punishment is six months in jail or fine of Tk 50,000; for unfit vehicle, the punishment is six months in jail or fine of Tk 50,000.
The proposed law has fixed the minimum age and academic qualification for a driving licence: one must pass Class VIII to be a driver, and Class V to be a driver’s assistant. One must also be 18 years of age for normal driving licence, and 21 for professional driving licence.
The proposed law includes a 12-point system for a driving licence — a system that many countries have. For each violation of traffic rules, ie not using seat belts, talking on mobiles while driving, driving the wrong way, flouting traffic signals, racing, reckless driving, parking in the wrong place, bad behaviour with passengers and more, a driver will lose one point. On losing all the 12 points, the license will be cancelled.
The proposed law also provides that the authorities concerned can fix the maximum number of vehicles a family or organisation can use. The authorities can also decide the economic life of the vehicles through gazette notifications. The authorities concerned can fix the working hours of drivers and helpers of buses, trucks, covered vans and other vehicles, which must be followed by the transport owners. Failing to do so will lead to appropriate punishment under the new law.
A financial assistance fund will be created to provide compensation to victims of road accidents. The fund will be run by a board of trustees. The trustees will collect the money from the government as grant, donation from transport owners’ associations, workers’ federation, or other legal sources. In the event of an accident, a driver or helper will inform the nearby police station and the hospital via a helpline. The Highway Police will have the helpline number for emergency responses.
Before passing this law, it is very important to understand how the road traffic law is implemented in other countries like the United Sates, the United Kingdom, etc. Let us explore the laws of some of the states of United States of America.
In Alabama, criminally negligent homicide is a class C felony and for this, the punishment is prison sentence of at least one year and one day up to two years and fine can go up to $15,000.
In Alaska, criminally negligent homicide is a class B felony and the punishment is imprisonment of a term which may extend up to 10 years and a fine up to $1,00,000.
In California, for vehicular manslaughter, the maximum punishment is imprisonment of a term of 10 years.
In Florida, for vehicular homicide, if it is felony of the first degree and the punishment is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 30 years or, when specifically provided by statute, by imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding life imprisonment. In the case of a felony of the second degree, the punishment is imprisonment for a term of years not exceeding 30, and such offender shall not be eligible for release for 10 years. And the fine is $10,000, when the conviction is of a felony of the first or the second degree.
In New York, vehicular manslaughter in the second degree is a class D felony. For, Class D felony, the punishment is imprisonment for a term up to seven years with a minimum of one year. Vehicular manslaughter in the first degree is a Class C felony. For Class C felony, the punishment is imprisonment for a term up to 15 years with a minimum of one year. Aggravated vehicular homicide is a Class B felony. For Class B felony, the punishment is imprisonment for a term up to 25 years with a minimum of between one year to one-third of the maximum sentence given.
In Texas, a person commits an offence which falls under the category of Class A misdemeanor if he recklessly engages in conduct that places another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury. For Class A misdemeanor, an individual adjudged guilty of a class A misdemeanor shall be punished by: (1) a fine not to exceed $4,000; (2) confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year; or (3) both such fine and confinement.
Therefore, we must take into consideration laws of other countries before finalising the bill and enacting into a law. It is also true that there will be cultural, societal, and geographical differences between the countries; however, knowledge on laws regarding same issues may add some value to the enactment process. The government would do well in taking into account the laws of other countries before the passage of the Road Transport Act 2018.
Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is a research assistant (law) at the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs.
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