THE well-being of drivers of public transports, most of whom are from a working class background, is generally ignored although the issue is directly related to passenger safety. BRAC and Junior Chamber International at an eye-camp that they organised at Sayedabad bus terminal found that 50 per cent of the drivers have poor eye sight, 16 per cent have watery eyes and 11 per cent have difficulty in reading. Yet they continue driving vehicles without access to regular eye care, when globally eye sight is a crucial factor in earning and maintaining driver’s licences. Minimum international requirement for all drivers of motor cars is that they could read a standard number plate, in good daylight, from a distance of 20 metres, with spectacles or corrective lenses, if required. It is deplorable that the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority has failed to develop a procedure to check the eye sight of drivers before issuing licences. Many of the committees that the government set up to improve road safety did not highlight the issue of driver’s eye condition either. With no further delay, the authorities should, therefore, arrange for eye test at all BRTA facilities and ensure check-up at a regular interval.
Transport workers, especially long-distance drivers, also face an extremely strenuous condition as the rule of eight-hour working day is not followed. In June 2018, 18 people died and 28 others became wounded in a road accident on the Bogura–Rangpur Highway in Gaibandha when the driver on the wheel fell asleep because of prolonged period of driving. Despite many decisions to implement a minimum wage for transport workers, the contract system is still in practice, which allow owners to take a fixed amount from the daily income of a vehicle. The system puts drivers under additional pressure to complete as many trips as possible to earn a bare minimum for their economic survival. Besides, drug abuse is found to be quite common among drivers, their assistants and other workers in the sector. While much has been said about reckless and unskilled driving, the working condition of transport workers and issues of their health and well-being have not been a policy concern. Public discourse on the issue revolves around criminalising the workers without addressing the structural constraints and their economic burden.
The government, under the circumstances, must immediately include eye test as part of driver’s licence issuing process by setting up eye-test booths at Road Transport Authority offices. The government should also enforce a minimum wage for transport workers and ensure its implementation and penalise owners for the continued practice of the contract system and making drivers work fore more than eight hours a day. The government and transport owner much realise that health and well-being of drivers are directly linked to passenger safety.
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