DESPITE promises from all concerned authorities, the roads and highways remain extremely unsafe for public in Bangladesh. In 2019, at least 5,227 people were killed in 4,702 road accidents across the country which was alarmingly higher than the number of fatalities on roads in 2018. Even during the general holiday imposed to contain the contagion of COVID-19 that came with a restriction on vehicle movement and travel ban, traffic accident continued unabated. In the short span of few days, from May 19 to May 31, at least 168 people were killed in 149 accidents. Now, the Passengers Welfare Association reports that more than 368 people were killed in 358 road accidents after the government had lifted the public transport ban on June 1. The welfare association’s report observed a higher number of accidents in regional and national highways and about 9.24 per cent accidents involved Nasimon and Karimon which are not supposed to be on any main roads. The prevailing situation related above does not paint a picture that suggests the government has done enough to streamline the road regime.
Passengers’ rights activists, for years, have been urging the government to modernise the governance structure in the sector. Roads in Bangladesh, in their view, remain unsafe as driving license and vehicle fitness certificate issuing process is fraught with corruption. Civic groups have also expressed concern about the influence that the transport owners have on policy makers. Their concerns are not unfounded given that several executive members of transport owner and workers federation are lawmakers and appointed to lead parliamentary committee on road safety. Immediate after the youth movement for road safety, the Road Transport Act 2018 was enacted with the hope to address these concerns, but the Act is yet to be fully implemented. In November 2019, when the Act was finally enforced after much stalling, the authorities were found lenient and relaxed. At the time, the mobile courts run by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and district administration to monitor the enforcement of the new law did not have the power to check unauthorised vehicle modification and overloading, two main causes that have left our roads accident prone. In another move, the government decided not to penalise commercial vehicles for violations of several key sections of the Act until June this year. Meanwhile, unfit vehicles and unskilled drivers are plying the roads risking the lives of passengers and pedestrians.
Misgovernance observed in the transport sector is in no way acceptable. It is time that the government acknowledged its failure in streamlining the sector, stopped making false promises to quell movement for road safety and fulfilled the demands made by passengers’ welfare activists. In so doing, it must prioritise strict enforcement of the Road Transport Act 2018 with particular attention to the issues of corruption in driving license and vehicle fitness certificate issuance process.
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