In a country where the transport sector in general is still blighted by the high rate of accidents and deaths on roads, highways are the much-needed infrastructures that mirror socioeconomic growth. But the fact remains that mismanagement, lack of coordination and non-enforcement of laws and regulations, inadequate government policies ail Bangladesh’s most ambitious road network. Shahin Akhter speaks to BUET teacher Hasanat-E-Rabbi, highway police DIG Md Atiqul Islam, safety campaigner Sadrul Hasan, Sumon Shahariar and Munia Zaman, respectively a service holder and a student, to present the actual scenario, besides raising some pertinent issues.
Shahnewaz Hasanat-E-Rabbi, lecturer of Accident Research Institute, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, recently told New Age on Thursday that accidents on national highways in Bangladesh were taking place as these were not standardised in terms of accessibility, speeds, presence of illegal structures and lack of monitoring.
Before designing a national highway the authorities should have consider the socio economic perspective of this country and create alternatives for locals, he added.
Shahnewaz explained that by definition highways should be structures where same speed vehicles could run freely in high speed which was absent in the country.
Here almost all vehicles with different speeds — slow and high — run on national highways, he said.
‘In our country a highway in the night while it is used as just a road during the day,’ observed Shahnewaz.
For example, he explained, that at night when Chattogram-bound vehicles started from Dhaka, they found the Dhaka-Chattogram national highway free of other traffic, especially slow-moving vehicles.
But during the day, vehicles of different speeds run on the highway and it was transformed into a normal road which was unacceptable, he continued.
The expert said that speed breakers should not be built on highways as vehicles run on these with high speed and speed breakers disrupted their journeys.
‘During the day speed breakers on highways ensure safety of people who use these due to different roadside infrastructures including kitchen markets and schools,’ he said. ‘But at night these speed breakers disrupted movement of high speed vehicles,’ he added.
In Bangladesh out of total traffic accidents, more than 40 per cent occurred on national highways while nearly half of these have pedestrian-involvement and around 20 per cent occurred due to head-on collision, the expert said.
He said in Bangladesh local scenario in the highway areas should be considered before designing a highway.
The authorities would have to consider roadside structures, schools and pedestrian movement as well, he said.
In Bangladesh lanes were absent which segregated slow-moving vehicles from high-speed vehicles on highways, Shahnewaz said.
‘If at the design-level we keep space for service lanes beside highways then these vehicles will be automatically avoid the high-speed lane. The infrastructure will enforce the discipline without the help of the police,’ he explained.
Socio economic survey was also much needed to prevent traffic accidents, he said.
About illegal roadside kitchen markets and other infrastructures, he said these needed to be removed to prevent traffic accidents and congestions.
‘But there is a problem — we don’t think about alternatives,’ the lecturer said, adding that, ‘We would have to arrange for alternatives before removing these markets.’
He suggested that the authorities should fix a date before evicting these markets and in the meantime the back sides of these markets should face the highway instead of the front sides. This would lead to reduction of both accidents and congestion,’ he said.
In cases of schools facing the highway, he suggested that, signs indicating schools should be installed at regular intervals — one kilometre before the schools to alert the road users.
The authorities could also set up slightly raised zebra crossings or rumble strips on highways to alert drivers, he said.
Shahnewaz said hazardous spot on highways was an important issue as in these spots frequent fatal accidents took place.
‘We need to know that hazardous spots on highways shift to other points,’ he said, ‘So for this reason continuous monitoring is necessary to find these spots.’
For that purpose, road safety audit was an imperative, he said.
Under such initiative, experts were engaged who would drive vehicles on a given highway to find out the environment, problems and other features of that highway to prevent accidents and carry out a prognosis, he explained.
Such audit was very necessary to determine hazardous spots on highways and address the issue through pragmatic solutions, though unfortunately the authorities never even thought of it, he said.
Shahnewaz said that according to police statistics the number of accidents and fatality on national highways were decreasing in last few years.
Still many reports on accidents went underreported as people usually did not want to go to police for filing cases and often mutual understanding is reached among the victim and responsible people, he said.
Finally, as a positive sign, he said, the authorities were now giving emphasis on ‘systems approach’.
He explained that earlier people thought that only drivers were responsible for accidents. Currently there were initiatives to find out the possible responsible persons and agencies behind road accidents including owners, engineering faults and even licence issuing authorities.
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