THE government’s non-compliance with a High Court order of June 20, 2019 for drug testing for and eyesight assessment of drivers has left two important protocols of driving unattended, adding to the risk of further road accidents that in many cases turn fatal. The court that time gave the authorities six months to do the job, but even eight months after, there has been no sign of drug testing for drivers forthcoming. Road transport owners in early December 2019 backtracked on their decision to arrange for drug testing for bus drivers. The owners retreated on the decision, announced at their meeting with road transport workers on September 18 that year, fearing a further ‘turbulent situation’ as transport workers had then been on strike against the implementation of the Road Transport Act 2018, set in force on November 1 that had run to a decidedly lax enforcement for about two weeks. That having happened, which should not have happened at all, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority does not know, as New Age reported on Saturday, when it could start holding drug testing for drivers. The Road Transport Authority chair is reported to have conveniently said that the employers of drivers are mainly responsible for drug testing of drivers before their appointment.
The role of the Road Transport Authority can in no way be set aside, as responsibility for enforcement, periodic drug testing of drivers especially when they are on the wheels, lies with the agency. Drug testing is needed to minimise the chance for accidents as people need to have a sound reflex system to drive vehicles and even a small amount of drug seriously affects people’s ability to drive safely. The issue becomes pressing in view of the admission of the Dhaka Road Transport Owners’ Association general secretary that an estimated 40–50 per cent of the drivers in the capital city are drug addicts. The Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh secretary general has, however, claimed that 85–90 per cent of the drivers engaged in city bus service and about a half of the drivers engaged on long routes are drug addicts. At least 4,138 people died in 4,147 traffic accidents in 2019 and 2,635 people died in 2,609 accidents in 2018. While it is said that rash driving causes an increased number of traffic accidents, road safety experts blame drug addiction in drivers for rash driving and associated mindless competition on the road and a growing number of incidents of sexual harassment in public transports.
It took the government about 13 months to enforce, that too partially, the Road Transport Act 2018 after its enactment. The law is still not in force with full force. It has already been eight months since the court ordered the government to attend to the issues of drug testing for and eyesight assessment of drivers, with an aim to shoring up road safety issues. Nothing but promises and assurances, with consequent failures, has so far been forthcoming to this end. It is time the government attended to the issue.
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