A common sight on Dhaka roads is motorcyclists indifferent to traffic rules.
They would change lanes to occupy space in front of other vehicles just to get ahead – not caring for those other vehicles. They snake through the vehicles stopped at signals to get at the top of the traffic. Some would still be found without helmets, especially on small streets.
Not just Dhaka, the picture is common across the country.
A research by the Civil Engineering Department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) has found that a biker in Dhaka city changes lanes six times in a minute.
As an inevitable consequence of this tendency bikers are responsible for most of the accidents on roads, it says.
According to the Statistics of Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Buet, 1,097 people died in motorcycle accidents across the country in 2020, while another 423 got injured.
The total number of fatalities caused by all kinds of accidents in 2020 was 3,558 – meaning 30% of fatalities on the road were caused by motorcycle accidents that year.
In 2016, the number of deaths from motorcycle accidents in the country was 336.
More than 4,000 people died from motorcycle accidents across the country in the last 5 years, finds the research that was presented at the 100th annual meeting of the transportation research board in Washington DC last year.
It has also found that almost half of the bikers are at risk of fatal accidents as they do not follow the traffic rules and regulations on the road.
Terming the trend of changing lanes frequently as alarming, the research has predicted that the number of accidents may increase in future.
The research was conducted among 451 bikers in Dhaka. Some bikers change lanes 2-6 times in a minute on average.
Professor Dr Md Hadiuzzaman, a teacher of civil engineering at BUET who led the research, told The Business Standard that the participants were astonished after getting such information and urged the researchers to take immediate measures in this regard.
"We've recommended designating separate lanes for motorcycles," he said. They have also suggested that a policy should be framed for motorcycles, bikers should be trained up properly, and finally awareness must be increased especially among the youths to rein in reckless driving.
Sheikh Imran Hossain, sergeant of Ramna Traffic Zone, told TBS that it is very difficult for them to control bikers as they ride their two-wheelers without thinking about the position of other vehicles. "Sometimes, they lose control over their bikes and cause many accidents on the roads."
"The number of bikes is increasing day by day, but the road space remains the same. That is why bikers always try to move faster to reach their destinations anyhow," he added.
Meanwhile, the number of motorcycle accidents is increasing day by day. Unfortunately, maximum injured persons die on the spots and most survived persons carry the impact of injury until their death.
As per the data from the National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation (Nitor), reckless driving ignoring traffic rules is the major reason behind road accidents. And most of the dead and injured people are aged between 30 and 40 years.
Dr Md Abdul Gani Mollah, director of NITOR, told TBS that about 35-40% of their patients are from motorcycle accidents. Of them, about 10% lose their hands or legs, while many carry the pain for life.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA)'s latest data, there are 31 lakh motorcycles in the country. Of them, about 13 lakh motorcycle drivers have no licence.
A recent survey by the ARI of BUET shows that motorcycle riders do not use quality helmets while driving. Only 10% of the drivers use quality helmets and only 2% pillion riders use quality helmets, although wearing the gadget can save them from fatal injuries.
Professor Dr Md Hadiuzzaman who is also a director of the ARI said it is very essential to use helmets as most of the deaths occur due to brain injuries. "But unfortunately, there is no government or private organisation to measure the quality of hamates. As a result, the substandard helmets have flooded the market, even though the users get no benefit out of those."
According to the Road Safety Foundation (RSF), 37% bike accidents occurred due to riders' losing control of their vehicles – meaning motorcyclists were solely responsible for the crash, while 35% accidents took place owing to motorcycles being hit or run over from behind by other vehicles and 15% were caused by head-on collisions. Besides, in 12% of such accidents pedestrians died after being hit or run over by motorcycles.
Ilias Kanchan, founder and chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai, said the number of bikes has increased but initiatives to prevent accidents in the country are inadequate.
"Bikers do not use helmets in the rural areas and those used in the urban areas have no quality. What is more, a bike sometimes carries three to four men in the rural areas, which is unacceptable and might lead to accidents," he said.
"In most cases, the BRTA provides driving licences without taking tests. This must stop. At the same time, no bike should be sold without licence," he added.
"Bikers have no training on how to ride and follow the traffic rules. They also lack awareness.
"Bikers are mostly youths who are inclined to riding bikes at high speed. But the roads and their bikes do not allow it. As a result, the number of accidents cannot be checked," he added.
He also asked for proper implementation of the Road Transport Act-2018, raising awareness on road safety and reclaiming pavements and parts of highways from illegal occupants.
Nur Mohammad Majumder, chairman of the BRTA, said they have been trying to ensure road safety for all.
"We are providing licences maintaining all the formalities. We are also trying to make people aware about road safety," he claimed.