Unaddressed vision problems of drivers are the causes behind a large number of bus crashes in Bangladesh, a study said.
The "Visual Impairment and Risk of Self-Reported Road Traffic Crashes Among Bus Drivers in Bangladesh" conducted by Orbis International said the issue was often overlooked in the country's licensing system.
The study showed high rates of unaddressed visual impairment among bus drivers, which could easily be corrected in the majority of the cases.
"This has significant implications for reducing traffic fatalities not only in Bangladesh, but also in other low- and middle-income countries, where 93% of road traffic deaths occur," it said.
The study found that a majority of bus drivers screened were found to be near- or far-sighted.
Additionally, nearly 1 in 5 bus drivers did not meet the standard of clarity for distance vision that is required to obtain a commercial driver's licence in Bangladesh; nearly 90% of these cases could be improved with readily available treatments, such as glasses.
The study was conducted among 700, of whom 18% did not meet the vision standard of Bangladesh for bus drivers.
It also showed that in 88.1% of the cases, glasses or cataract surgery could make the unfit drivers reach the driving standard.
Talking to The Business Standard on Thursday, Dr Munir Ahmed, Orbis International's country director who led the research, said eye vision checkup was still neglected in Bangladesh's driving licensing system.
"When you apply for a driving licence, you have to submit a document stating that your eyesight is okay. But many just get a signature from a doctor nearby or sometimes get middlemen to do it. The drivers' eye health or vision are never checked or questioned," Dr Munir said.
"Most of the time, vision related medical documents are signed by non-eye specialists. It is alarming and we have even found instances where drivers are taking to the road despite having eye sight problems," he added.
"We suggest that at least a vision centre be attached with every BRTA [Bangladesh Road Transport Authority] office and professional ophthalmologists check each applicant's vision. If the applicant has any issues with sight, then they will be referred for further checkup," Munir suggested.
He also added that the process will be the same if someone applies for a licence renewal, even if they had no problem earlier.
Professor Dr Hadiuzzaman, director of the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, told TBS that the licence issuing exam and process should be more practical.
"When someone applies for a licence, their peripheral vision should also be checked along with the so-called written exam. Our newly enacted road transport act also mentions assessment of both physical and mental stability of a person applying for a licence. As the BRTA has proposed drug tests for professional licence holders, eye-screening could also be added too," he added.
The study further showed that the road crash fatality rate per capita in Bangladesh is three times higher than that of the South Asia region, with bus crashes being a notable contributor to that trend. In a recent three-year period, approximately 50% of fatal crashes in the Dhaka metro area involved buses, compared to less than 1% in the US and the UK.
Munir Ahmed said the many drivers who had accidents in the night time reported not seeing objects clearly.
"Some of them brought up their eyesight problems, but those were never addressed by the authorities," he added.
Abdul Malek, a driver of Dhaka-Raipur bound Jonaki Express, said he had poor vision, but obtained his licence without any problems by using middlemen.
Sitangsu Biswas, director (Engineering) of the BRTA, claimed that they never forged anyone's medical papers, but if a doctor falsified a medical clearance, then the licensing body had nothing to do with it.