Road safety: a dream that never came true

Shahin Akhter | Updated at 01:03am on September 07, 2018


Pedestrians cross a busy road ignoring a nearby footbridge on Topkhana Road in Dhaka. — Indrajit Kumer Ghosh

Massive student protests demanding road safety, also reflecting the people’s growing frustration over the failure of government organs to maintain order in transportation system, rocked the country but deaths in road accidents have remained a daily phenomenon.
Directives from the High Court, prime minister and others authorities have done only little in stopping reckless driving and blatant violations of traffic rules.
Lack of enforcement and good governance, culture of impunity, lengthy legal process, inactive highway police, and greed for excessive profits have been blamed by road safety experts for the situation.
They also think that all traffic rules violators, whoever they be, have to be penalised first of all.
Thousands of students took to the streets against anarchy in the road transport sector after two Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College students were killed by a reckless bus in the capital on July 29.
In the face of protests, road transport and bridges ministry officials said they would take measures, including strict monitoring, to check fatal road accidents during this Eid-ul-Azha.
But, according to Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh, at least 259 people were killed and 960 injured in 237 road accidents during this Eid between August 16 and August 28.
Expressing frustration, experts and civil society members observe that the situation has remained almost the same as before the protest.
The prime minister on June 25 gave directives to ensure drivers’ rest every five hours, alternative drivers for long distance transports, training facilities for drivers and their assistants, use of seatbelts while travelling and going by traffic signals.
These directives were nothing new as they were already mentioned in Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983, Bangladesh Labour Act, 2009 and traffic laws while the High Court, different ministries and Dhaka Metropolitan Police had already given the same directives earlier.
On August 1, 2015 road transport and bridges ministry imposed a ban on three-wheeler and non-motorised vehicles on 22 national highways.
The HC’s directive to the road transport ministry and the police, issued on August 3, 2015, to keep unfit motor vehicles off the roads across the country was never enforced.
Home affairs ministry in 2010 in a directive put a ban on unregistered battery-run three-wheelers ‘easy bikes’.
Back in September 2011, the government had formed an expert nine-member sub-committee, headed by the then Dhaka University Teachers’ Association president and now University Grants Commission professor M Anwar Hossian, to make a set of recommendations on road safety.
The other members on the committee were Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology civil engineering professor and Accident Research Institute former director Md Shamsul Hoque, Families United Against Road Accidents convener Ekram Ahmed, Nirapad Sarak Chai chairman Ilias Kanchan, BRAC road safety programme director and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority former chairman Ahmed Najmul Hossain, Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association secretary general Khandaker Enayet Ullah, Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation general secretary Osman Ali, roads and highways department road safety unit the then superintendent engineer and the then BRTA deputy director for road safety Md Hamidur Rahman.
On July 5, 2012 the committee gave 52 short, mid- and long-term recommendations which were being finalised.
The first recommendation is addressed to the transport owners for providing written appointment letters to their appointed drivers with mention of wage structure and eight-hour working time as per labour law. Besides, in case any driver works overtime, extra responsibility allowance has to be mentioned.
Instead of implementing the recommendations, the government has decided to allow drivers with licences for running light vehicles to run medium vehicles and drivers with licences for running medium vehicles to run heavy vehicles, with minimum one-year experience in both cases till this year, as per a circular published on August 27 at Bangladesh Road Transport Authority’s website.
The public transport drivers with legal professional light driving licences and minimum one-year experience will be allowed to apply for medium driving licences and the public transport drivers with medium driving licences and minimum one-year experience will be eligible for getting heavy driving licences, it adds.

A woman passes her child over a road divider fence before jumping over the barrier intended to control jaywalking near New Market in Dhaka. — Indrajit Kumer Ghosh

Among other recommendations are: in case of any road accident, responsible persons like driver-owner-engineer-fitness authority have to be brought under the purview of law, transport owners have to take attempt to stop operating vehicles under daily or monthly contract systems and movement of nasimon-karimon-bhatbhati-easy bike on highways have to be banned on highways.
The road signs have to be installed on road in right place following system, road markings have to be painted in right way and these should be maintained, all including owner-driver-pedestrians have to follow traffic rules, passengers should not instigate drivers to drive faster, the system of providing light-medium-heavy driving licences have to be followed correctly and the process of providing driving licence have to be faster by evaluating skills and eligibility, the recommendations say.
Some other recommendations are: increasing the scope for training for drivers and driving instructors, prepare driving manuals in easy language, more accurate and faster accident data recording and reporting system by police, more careful process to provide fitness and registration of vehicles, encroachment-free footpaths and roads and strict implementation of traffic laws and action against corruption in different road safety related agencies.
For highways, recommendations were made to increase highway patrolling and instant punishment for overtaking, over speed and overloading, remove engineering faults on black or hazardous spots and highway-side kitchen markets, control standard in road construction works, provide more speed guns, alcohol detectors and high speed vehicles, motorcycles and ambulances to the highway police, establish highway observation method like control rooms, CCTV in every 50km span, speed guns and necessary number of petrol cars, free highways from encroachment, corruption-free and proper use of axle load stations on highways to stop overloading on highways.
The sub-committee head and University Grants Commission professor M Anwar Hossain told New Age that it was a matter of regret that after the recommendations were made, the committee members were never informed about progress in their implementation.
‘In the last six years, safety on roads did not increase while in many cases it decreased,’ he regretted.
The professor said that during recent protests students showed the government and the common people how to enforce and follow traffic rules.
‘But see, after this huge movement, during last Eid, we did not see the signs of increased safety on roads,’ he said, adding that, ‘in reality there is no reflection of the movement though it shook everyone.’
Their recommendations were addressed to the government, transport owners and workers, pedestrians, businesses, BRTA and law enforcers which were not implemented in gross, he lamented.
At least some short and midterm recommendations should be implemented by this time, he suggested.
Anwar Hossain said road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader took some ‘epoch-making steps’ like checking black spots and training for drivers.
But after he became general secretary of Bangladesh Awami League, it was not possible on his part to give much time to road sector which was very necessary, he noted.
He said laws were not being implemented strictly in road sector, legal process was very lengthy, owners were not giving appointment letters to drivers and drivers were behaving like terrorists as they were organised and they knew they would be spared.
For solution, he suggested that there should be good governance for implementation of laws and prevention of corruption in penalising the violators whoever they are.
About highway police, he said that if highway police were not active and failed to reach the accident spots instantly, road safety would not be ensured.
BUET ARI assistant professor Kazi Md Shifun Newaz said the directives given on road safety from time to time were nothing new as these were already mentioned on different existing laws.
He said presence of technical experts should be ensured in regional transport committee for every district instead of presence of transport owners and workers’ leaders.
‘You have to train up drivers before giving them licences and bring them under wage structure to check reckless driving,’ he added.
Families United against Road Accidents chairman Ekram Ahmed said directives on road safety were not being followed for lack of a sense of responsibility and morality among the officials concerned and comprehensive laws.
For the capital, route franchise would be a solution for reckless driving while for driving on highways drivers must be appointed under monthly wage structure and there should be alternative drivers and resting facilities on long routes, he said.
Deputy inspector general of highway police Md Atiqul Islam claimed that like before they were enforcing laws on highways against violations of traffic rules and making people aware about traffic rules.
He said public involvement and own motivation were necessary to improve road safety situation on highways.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority chairman Md Moshiar Rahman told New Age on Tuesday that they were regularly holding meetings to implement the road safety directives.