No drug testing system for drivers in sight in Bangladesh

Shahin Akhter | Published: 00:00, Feb 15,2020 | Updated: 00:06, Feb 15,2020


No system for detecting the presence of drugs in drivers is in sight although the High Court gave a directive to put in place such a system almost a year ago.

The transport owners backtracked from implementing their decision to arrange drug tests for the Dhaka city bus drivers in last year fearing an eruption of a ‘turbulent situation’ as the transport workers were on a strike then.

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority officials and the transport owners could not provide any date for starting the tests.

Drug addiction has become a serious concern for the authorities and the transport owners as reckless driving was pushing up the number of fatal road accidents.

Road safety experts blamed drug addiction among drivers for the mindless competition on roads while passenger rights activists said that this addiction was a major reason for the growing sexual harassment in public transports. 

Currently, the road transport authority only conducts a medical test on the professional drivers which does not include any test on drug detection.

The highway police and the Dhaka Metropolitan Police traffic department have no system to examine drug levels in the blood of the drivers on duty.

According to Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association general secretary Khandakar Enayet Ullah, an estimated 40 to 50 per cent drivers working in Dhaka city are drug addict.

But, Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh secretary general Mozammel Haque Chowdhury claimed that at present some 85 to 90 per cent drivers of the city-service buses and around 50 per cent drivers of the long-route buses were addicted to drugs.

According to the police, at least 4,138 people were killed and 4,411 injured in 4,147 accidents in 2019 while 2,635 died and 1,920 were injured in 2,609 accidents in 2018.

Since 1994, the highest number of people was killed in road accidents last year, said the police.

Sexual harassment of women in buses also became a serious concern in recent years as some women were killed after being raped inside running buses at various places in the country.

On June 20, 2019 the High Court ruled that the drivers must be tested for drugs and eyesight before they were given driving licences and while driving in order to check accidents.

The court also asked the government, the road transport authority and the police to introduce a system in six months for carrying out the tests.

Till Thursday, eight months after the directive, no such system was introduced.

Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association leaders on September 18, 2019 announced that they would arrange drug tests for the bus drivers in Dhaka city from December 1 of the year with the help of the authorities in the wake of growing road accident fatalities.

But they backed out from implementing the decision as transport workers went on a strike in protest against the newly effected Road Transport Act 2018.

The law says that the professional drivers have to be physically and mentally fit to obtain licence.

At least three BRTA sources have confirmed to New Age that rules for drug tests have been proposed in the draft rules for the new law.

Kazi Md Shifun Newaz, assistant professor at Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said that drug tests for drivers were essential in order to reduce road accidents.

Drugs stir excessive confidence and induce risk-taking behaviour among the bus drivers as a result of which they resort to reckless driving and do not hesitate to hit other vehicles on the road, he said.

PWAB secretary general Mozammel said that drivers with drug addiction do not bother about reckless driving as they had to earn more to buy drugs regularly.

Drug addiction also plays a significant role in the increasing incidents of sexual harassment of women in public transports, he went on.

According to Mozammel, along with passengers bus owners, too, suffer losses when their vehicles fall into an accident and that is why currently they admit to the drug addiction among drivers.

BRTA executive magistrates should test the drug level among drivers when they conduct mobile courts and the owners should arrange for examining the drivers before employing them to run vehicles, he added.

DRTOA general secretary Khandakar Enayet said on Thursday that they backtracked on December 1 last from implementing their decision for the drug test fearing a turbulent situation.

The transport workers went on a strike in protest against the enforcement of the new road law then, he mentioned.

‘We will arrange drug tests later after discussing the matter with the road transport authority and the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority,’ he said but added that they could not say when they would start the tests.

DRTOA executive president Abul Kalam said that they had sought assistance also from the Narcotics Control Department for conducting the tests.

BRTA chairman Kamrul Ahsan the same day said that currently they did not have any system to detect drug levels in the people participating in the test for obtaining driving licences.

‘Mainly the employers or the employing organisations have the responsibility to check the drug level in drivers before appointing them,’ he said.

BRTA director engineering Md Lokman Hossain Mollah said that they were working to implement the High Court directive.

When drug tests will be introduced for the bus drivers in the capital their executive magistrates will operate mobile courts in this regard, he added.

DTCA executive director Khandakar Rakibur Rahman said that a few days ago they had called a meeting where they urged the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, the police and the transport leaders to implement the High Court directive on the drug tests.

He pointed out that they were not mandated to conduct the drug tests.

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