DEATH in traffic accidents, as road safety campaign Nirapad Sarak Chai says in its annual report, registered a sharp increase in 2019 on the 2018 figure. At least 5,227 people died in 4,702 accidents in 2019 whereas 4,439 people died in 3,103 road accidents in 2018. Of the 2019 victims, at least 2,661 were pedestrians and 1,190 motorcyclists and transport workers. While 47 per cent of the accidents involved buses, trucks and covered vans, 23 per cent involved motorcyclists. The highest number of fatalities took place in Mymensingh, followed by Dhaka and Chattogram, with lowest reported cases in Jhalkathi. The situation suggests that government efforts to streamline the road transport sector have failed and high-powered committees set up to improve on the situation only added layers of bureaucratic hurdles to the implementation of decisions.
The number of deaths and injuries increased, but the reasons for the accidents remain constant and unaddressed. Passenger rights organisations and transport experts have listed weak traffic management, poor law enforcement, skilled driver shortage, unfit vehicles and passenger’s carelessness as the main contributing factors. In December 2015, the High Court ordered the government to implement 28 guidelines of a seven-member committee set up under a court order to specifically address all these problems. In April 2019, a government committee came up with 111-point recommendations to discipline the transport sector and curb road accidents. The action of the ruling Awami League, during its three consecutive terms, has been limited to setting up committees that have made recommendations. It has given in to the pressure of transport workers and owners, compromising passengers’ safety, when it came to implementation issues. Unfit vehicles, meanwhile, plied the road and unskilled drivers ran the vehicles, putting people at risk. The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority submitted a report to the High Court in June 2019 that shows a shocking 479,320 vehicles to be running on the road without fitness certificates. With the full knowledge of the problems in the sector, the government has remained inactive for more than a decade now.
In the face of the road safety movement in 2018, the government quickly enacted the Road Transport Act but delayed its implementation as transport owners and workers were opposed to certain sections of the law, including the one that lays out punishment for death by rash driving. In November 2019, the government half-heartedly enforced the law, 13 months after it was enacted in September 2018, but without the rules required for its implementation, failing to leave any positive impact on the sector. The delay in framing the rules has added to the risks of traffic accidents that are evident in the report of Nirapad Sarak Chai. The government must, therefore, frame the rules and fully implement the law to reap intended benefits.
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