Road safety in Bangladesh remains as elusive as ever

Shahin Akhter | Published: 00:48, Jan 02,2019 | Updated: 00:54, Jan 02,2019

 
 

Garment workers agitate at Malibagh in the capital on Tuesday after two of their fellows were killed in a road accident. — New Age photo

Safety on roads, uniform traffic management and disciplined public transport system still remain mostly on papers even after the issue was one of the most discussed in the year 2018, observed road safety campaigners.
Thousands of students took to the streets after two of their fellows of Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College were killed after a reckless driver drove a bus off the road in the capital on July 29.
The protests were followed by prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s directives, some infrastructural initiatives and countrywide traffic initiatives by law enforcement agencies.
Despite these immediate actions, the situation remained the same due to the lack of a holistic approach, enforcement of existing laws and formulation of proper solutions, observed the campaigners.
Deaths on road, mainly due to reckless driving by untrained, unlicensed and underage drivers, continue unabated.
Violation of traffic rules by all sections of people continued across the country including reckless driving, overtaking, and movement of unfit vehicles. Additionally, lack of public transports and facilities for pedestrians exacerbated the matter.
Though road safety remained a much talked about issue, in an unprecedented move, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority in August 2018 relaxed the rules in issuance of driving licences for ‘public interest’. Against about 35 lakh registered motorised vehicles, the year saw a total of 19 lakh driving licences issued till August.
Training facilities for drivers is still poor while the transport owners are yet to practice the appointment system for drivers.
Moreover, irregularities in government bodies engaged in regulating the sector alongside transport owners’ attitude of making maximum profits still overshadow the road sector in which political manipulation reigns supreme.
The prime minister on June 25, 2018 gave directives to ensure drivers’ rest every five hours, to introduce alternate drivers for long distance transports, training facilities for drivers and their assistants, use of seatbelts while travelling as well as going by traffic signals.
Most of these directives still remain on paper.
The government on September 20 passed the Road Transport Act, 2018, in the wake of the student protests, replacing the Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983. The law awaits implementation.
The year also saw Bangladesh Police conducting a countrywide Traffic Week and Dhaka Metropolitan Police observing a Traffic Month, which did not translate into much as far as violation of traffic rules was concerned.
Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology’s Accident Research Institute assistant professor Kazi Md Shifun Newaz told New Age that the year 2018 did not see much improvement on reckless driving, training and appointment of drivers, fitness of the vehicles and pedestrian behaviours.
The owners were yet to appoint drivers with fixed salary while the facilities for training for drivers were also very inadequate, he said.
The teacher said that the capital roads were yet to become pedestrian-friendly and bus drivers were still reckless, showing the same zeal for competitiveness on roads to get more passengers.
‘Without considering the solutions which would include bus route franchise and the appointment of trained drivers, safety on roads will not be assured and nothing will be sustainable,’ Md Shifun Newaz said.
He also observed that the number of road accidents is likely to increase this year.
Work for a Better Bangladesh, Trust programme manager Maruf Hossain said that the traffic situation in the capital returned to its earlier form, manifesting the same old disorders.
Unfit vehicles with heavily dented bodies were still running on roads, buses were making stoppage everywhere irrespective of the presence of bus stops and bays, motorcycles and cars are parked on footpaths and pedestrians were also violating traffic rules, he observed.
‘It seems that even after the countrywide protests the authorities have taken only a handful of initiatives, that too to tackle the situation while there are no sincere efforts in sight to continue with these initiatives,’ he added.
DMP joint commissioner (traffic) Mofiz Uddin Ahmed said that after the student movement, the road safety situation had been improved with some visible changes like use of helmets by motorbike and pillion riders, fewer incidents of driving on wrong lanes and an increased awareness among people.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority chairman Md Moshiar Rahman claimed that in 2018 the road safety situation improved a lot.
‘In 2019 we will work to reduce the number of road accidents by 50 per cent and very soon we will implement the Road Transport Act to ensure safety on roads,’ he said.
As per BRTA data, prepared based on first information reports of the police, till September 2018, a total of 1,853 people were killed in road accidents, while 2,513 people were killed and 1,898 injured in 2,562 accidents in 2017.

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