BANGLADESH is far behind in achieving one of the Sustainable Development Goals targets for the road transport sector — halving the number of death and injuries in traffic accidents by 2020. Road fatalities have marked a significant increase, rather. In 2020, the number of road accidents, death and injuries increased by about 57 per cent against the figures of 2009. The Passengers’ Welfare Association of Bangladesh reports that at least 6,686 people died and 8,600 became injured in 4,891 road accidents across the country in 2020. In the past decade, as a World Bank report estimates, the number of yearly death in road accidents has increased about 10 times to 20,736 from 2,538. Meanwhile, the per capita fatality rate has increased more rapidly over the past three decades than the average in South Asia. All the authorities concerned are well aware of the situation and are now planning to take new steps to meet the SDG target. The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority appears to have already prepared the ninth National Road Safety Strategic Action Plan 2021–2024. As the Road Transport Act 2018 is partially implemented and recommendations of various government offices remain unimplemented, whether a new action plan would help to reduce road fatalities remains a question.
The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority’s newly drafted action plan promises to reduce taffic accident fatalities and injuries by 20 to 25 per cent by 2024 and by 50 per cent by 2030. Such policy promises are commonplace in the road transport sector. The Road Transport Act was enacted amidst a road safety movement spearheaded by the youth and the act has only been partially implemented. In 2018, a significant directive came from the Prime Minister’s Office that included alternative drivers for long-route buses and recess for drivers every five hours. Experts in the transport sector and the chair of the Road Transport Authority suggested that it is the failure to implement policy decisions that has made roads and highways increasingly risky. Advocates of passenger rights blamed an unholy alliance between the policymakers and transport owners and workers’ associations for this enforcement failure. They are not wrong given that nearly every drive initiated to keep unfit vehicles or unlicensed drivers off the road has met transport workers going on strike or other untoward incidents. It is, therefore, not the lack of policy and action plan that is the problem, but the lack of political commitment has, rather, kept the road fatally risky for people.
The government must, therefore, look into the real reasons for the non-implementation of the policies and consider a multimodal transport system that the experts in the sector have recommended for years. It must act knowing that the SDG targets are part of the country’s international commitment and a failure to meet the goal would certainly harm the nation’s image that the government claims to have created for the past decade.
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