ROAD safety issues have remained unattended by successive governments. It is the death of two students in a road accident and the subsequent road safety protests that compelled the authorities concerned to act on pervasive irregularities and corruption in the sector. The city police have started holding a special training programme for a month to improve the situation with a number of bold moves, including imposing a ban on modified utility vehicle to carry passengers. Earlier, the cabinet approved a road safety bill for its passage into a law. The Dhaka Road Transport Owners’ Association announced the adoption of a wage system for bus drivers instead of the contract system. These are welcome initiatives but it came at the cost of too many lives killed in road accidents. According to the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, because of the wilful negligence of the authorities concerned, at least 2,471 people died on the roads this year. It is unfortunate that the government had tolerated a corrupt and broken system for so long and effectively turned the transport sector a deadly affair.
Some of the traffic rules that the authorities have promised to strictly enforce in the month-long programme have been part of the traffic safety regulation for some time now. City buses would, for an example, not stop anywhere but designated spots. However, drivers and their assistants are unruly and largely never heed traffic signs and continue to arbitrarily stop at any location to drop and pick up passengers in exchange for money paid to traffic personnel. It is not just drivers and their assistants that get away violating traffic laws, more often than expected, law enforcement personnel and ranking government officials are also found driving the wrong way. In order for the traffic safety drive to be effective, as passenger rights activists say, the political culture in which people having clout are treated differently by the law must come to an end. They further point out that the transport sector has become such a deadly affair because of the unholy alliances between transport authorities and owners. Any government effort to systematically address the problem in the sector was impeded by transport owners and leaders of transport associations. Without addressing these structural concerns, traffic safety drives may bring a momentary relief, but will not resolve the crisis in the transport sector.
It is commendable that the government has taken issues of road safety seriously and chalked up a plan to improve the situation. However, abrupt discontinuation of modified utility vehicles that carry passengers will only bring further sufferings to the people who use them and who depend on them for their living. Authorities need to arrange alternative public transport services and implement such decision in phases. More importantly, the government must undo the syndicate that has unlawfully controlled the transport sector and make a law in consultation with organisations representing the voice and concerns of passengers.
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