ROAD safety remains elusive even two years after students have launched the road safety movement that shook the nation. After two college students had died in a road accident in July 2018, thousands of students took to the streets protesting against irregularities in the road transport sector. The student protesters demanded stringent punishment of the drivers responsible for road accidents, installation of foot bridges in accident-prone areas, compensation for victims and their family and special passes for student passengers. Two years later, roads have remained equally, or even more, deadly for passengers as at least 368 people died and 518 became wounded in 358 accidents across the country in June. More than 5,227 people died in 4,702 accidents in 2019 and the figure shows only reported cases. Road safety campaigners observe an alarming increase in road fatalities. The enforcement of the Road Transport Act 2018, enacted immediately after the road safety protests, has been relaxed, having no significant impact on curbing irregularities in the sector.
After two years of the road safety movement, students and road safety campaigners have expressed disappointment about government failures to put the road transport sector in order. Unfit vehicles often ply the road and unlicensed drivers still run the vehicles. It is reported that about 2.8 million drivers hold 3.6 million licences, suggesting the chance for one individual to hold multiple licences. About 11,000 vehicles, as the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority says, have not renewed their fitness certificates in a decade or more. The fitness and driving licence issuing process is still rigged. The government, which should be stringent about the regulations, has extended the vehicle licence renewal deadline twice. In the light of this lenient enforcement of the law, the allegation of students and road safety campaigners that the government acts in the interest of transport owners and workers’ federation rings true. The appointment of the executive president of the Transport Owner and Workers’ Federation as head of the parliamentary committee on road safety also substantiates this allegation.
For the government to prove its commitment to road safety, it must ensure that the Road Safety Act is enforced strictly without any bias. In so doing, it must finalise the rules for a proper implementation of the law immediately and remove lawmakers who may have vested interest in the transport sector from any government task force or committee considering a conflict of interest. Reckless driving must be held to account through due legal process systemically and regularly to set a precedent and discourage rash driving. Citizens at large must also continue to mount pressure on the government to make roads safe for all.
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