Minister’s road safety remark doesn’t reflect reality

Updated at 10:36pm on April 08, 2019

A RICKSHAW-PULLER was killed in a traffic accident in Dhaka on Sunday. In a single day, on March 28, media report 25 people to have died in road accidents. In view of this, the law minister’s remark at an event on road safety that ‘roads and highways are not yet fully safe’ implying that some improvement has taken place is nothing but a false claim. The comment of a state minister who attended the event also appears to be an attempt at trivialising the problem of reckless driving and unskilled drivers. This is not the first time political leaders in ministerial positions are making such statements. After the death of two college students in 2018, a former shipping minister, who is still executive president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation, said that public reaction to road accidents is overblown and irresponsible. The law minister’s comment is in stark contrast with the prevailing irregularities in the transport sector as unskilled and unlicensed drivers keep running vehicles, almost regularly killing people every day. The death of a university student sparking the new wave student protest for road safety is a glaring example of the government’s failure.
After the 2018 road safety, the government enacted the Road Transport Act 2018 and held at least two traffic weeks and a traffic month to discipline the sector. In October 2018, after the traffic safety month, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police commissioner expressed his disappointment and acknowledged the failure of the initiative. The three-member committee set up in February to implement the Road Transport Act is yet to hold a meeting, even though committee was expected to submit recommendations in two weeks. Since 2011, a number of high-powered government committees were set up and they all made recommendations on improving the road transport sector but all directives remain largely unimplemented. In February, the government set up a 15-member committee to give recommendations on disciplining the transport sector with a controversial figure having direct monetary interest in the sector as head and it raised questions about the effectiveness of committee. When much of what has so far been done to improve road safety is nothing but demonstration of the government’s half-hearted attitude to serve passenger interest, the law minister’s comment appears to be nothing but the denial of truth and failed attempt at painting a false picture of improvement in the transport sector.
At least 4,439 people died and 7,425 became injured, as Nirapad Sarak Chai says, in 3,103 road accidents in 2018. This statistics paint a grim picture of the road safety situation and does not leave room for any denial on part of the government. The ministers concerned must immediately abandon the denial strategy, own up to the problem and take the crisis in transport sector seriously.