FOLLOWING the countrywide student protests demanding road safety, the Road Transport Act 2018 was passed in parliament in mid-September last year. The preamble to the 2018 Act indicates that it is being passed with a view to replacing the Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983 in order to modernise the law.
Upon primary inspection of chapter 9 of the Act — which deals with compensation claims for road deaths and injuries — it can be said that the new law arguably leaves victims in a worse off situation than the Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983 Ordinance.
Chapter 9 of the 2018 Act (deals with compensation) replaces a road accident victim's right to sue motor vehicle owners for compensation before a tribunal with the right to apply for financial aid from a rather charitable perspective.
The Act seems to use the term 'compensation' and 'financial aid' for the purposes of claims under this fund interchangeably and does not seem to adequately appreciate the difference between the two, which is problematic since 'aid' is always gratuitous whereas compensation is an entitlement as of right.
This fund will be established from these sources — grants from the government, yearly nominal contributions from motor vehicle owners, fines obtained under the Act, and grants from motor vehicle owners' and workers' associations as per Section 57 of the 2018 Act.
This therefore nullifies the operation of compensation liability on the motor vehicle owner whose employee causes a fatal road accident or injury in any given case. In this regard, Section 111 read with Section 128 of the 1983 Ordinance granted victims the right to sue for compensation not only from insurance providers but also from motor vehicle owners.
Additionally, it is important to bear in mind that fines can only be imposed on those who incur criminal liability, which would not apply to motor vehicle owners since vicarious liability does not operate in criminal law.
Catherine Masud vs Kashed Miah and others is the first of its kind case decided directly in the HCD. On August 13, 2011, the renowned filmmaker Tareque Masud died in a fatal road accident. Compensation was sought from co-owners of the bus, the driver and the insurance company.
If the landmark case of Catherine Masud (where vicarious liability was imposed on different types of bus owners for the road crash that led to Tareque Masud's death to pay 4.4 crore in compensation), was to be filed under the 2018 Act, rather than the 1983 Ordinance, the claimant would simply not be able to impose compensation liability on the bus owners.
It must be recognised that a road accident victim's right to sue for compensation and their ability to apply for financial aid are certainly not one and the same. In this regard, forcing transport owners to pay compensation to victims of road deaths and injuries is one way to hold them to account.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what the 2018 Act tragically fails to do. Therefore the lawmakers should bring changes according to the context.
Nafiul Alam Shupto is a student of North South University.
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