HIGHWAYS remain accident prone as existing laws and government directives remain unimplemented for years. In 2020, according to the Road Safety Foundation, at least 5,431 people were killed in 4,735 road accidents across the country and, of all the accidents, about 34.24 per cent occurred on national highways. Another report of the Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association says, around 28 per cent of all accidents in 2020 involved three-wheelers, battery-run and unregistered vehicles on highways. The plying of vehicles with differing speeds on highways has been regarded as one of the main reasons making the highways accident prone. The death of two people in an accident on the Pabna–Sujanagar Highway from collision between a slow moving three-wheeler and a speeding goods laden vehicle on Friday is a tragic example. Despite High Court directives and government order banning the movement of non-motorised vehicles, they are regularly seen on national highways. In some districts including Sylhet, Mymensingh and Tangail, the number of unregistered and slow moving vehicles is on the rise. Clearly, the situation at hand is a case of enforcement failure of the relevant laws by the authorities concerned.
While the movement of vehicles with differing speeds is the prime reason behind the escalating number of accidents on highways, there are other factors that compromise passengers’ safety; and they include unskilled drivers behind the wheel, exhaustion of drivers from working long hours, a lack of monitoring of black spots on highways and more. All these issues are explicitly addressed in government orders, High Court directives and the existing laws. In 2018, the prime minister gave directives to ensure drivers’ rest every five hours, alternative drivers for long distance transports and the setting-up of resting facility for drivers on highways. In April 2019, the national road safety committee submitted its 111-point recommendation to the prime minister that provided elaborate guidelines to prevent fatal accidents on highways emphasising the introduction of service lanes for slow moving vehicles, setting speed limit in accident-prone areas, keeping the connection points between national highways and feeder roads in check and regular inspections of black spots on national highways. The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority chairman has too acknowledged that the recommendations and directives need to be strictly implemented and that without service lanes on highways for three-wheelers and alternative transport for passengers, it is not possible to deter accidents. Yet the directives and government orders sadly remain unimplemented.
For decades, committees have been formed, recommendations made to prevent road accidents in Bangladesh, but they remain unenforced. Half-hearted enforcement of the Road Transport Act 2018, which was enacted following a youth movement for road safety in October 2018 and saw a partial enforcement in November 2019, is a case in point. It is time that the government truly committed to the cause of road safety and ensured strict enforcement of its orders and existing laws. It must immediately take steps to ensure that slow moving vehicles do not ply the highways, but, in so doing, it must arrange for alternative transport for the people using these vehicles.
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