In a nearly 2-minute-long video posted on YouTube by a channel named "Imrul Hasan", we found at least three people recording a bus race. As the bus is continuously honking while racing to overtake another bus, several people, presumably the YouTubers, are inciting the driver.
"Go, go, go, yes, almost done," the people in the background shout at the driver as he undertakes to get past the other bus. As soon as this bus speeds up and crosses the other one, they celebrate in louder jubilance. "Yeah!," they celebrate together.
As per the title of the YouTube video, Hanif Paribahan bus driver's name is Nizam. The title reads, "King Nizam rocked the Cox's Bazar road with Hanif Paribahan [surprised emoticon] …bus race [fearful emoticon] …S. Alam, Relax and Hanif."
Seconds later, the same story is repeated as Nizam is about to overtake another bus.
The YouTubers shout and incite "King" Nizam to race past the other bus in front. As Nizam successfully overtakes that one also, they celebrate again.
A writing above Nizam's head reads, "La ilaha illa anta subhanaka inni kunti minazzalimin" – a particular prayer Muslims recite in the face of any danger. In villages, people recite other prayers including this one beside deathbeds.
Since the Cox's Bazar-bound buses often carry tourists, they run mostly full to their capacity. It means there were nearly 50 passengers on that bus. Were they reciting the prayer while the YouTubers and the driver were risking their lives for some views on YouTube? We do not know.
The video has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. And the "Imrul Hasan" channel – supposedly named after the person running the page – has posted hundreds of such bus race videos to this day.
The channel has over 38 million views in total and more than 1,00,000 subscribers. All the videos come with scary titles and thumbnails. If you are into crazy stuff on the streets, Imrul will get your views by recording the crazy stuff on Bangladesh's accident-prone roads.
Imrul Hasan is not alone. The Business Standard traced at least a dozen such YouTube channels cashing in on mad bus races in Bangladesh, a country where thousands of people die each year in road accidents.
One of them, Raian Rahman, introduced himself as a student of Dhaka University.
"I love to travel by bus. I like to capture thrilling moments of bus driving videos and still pictures," Raian told TBS on Facebook messenger.
We asked him about the "star" bus racer, Imrul Hasan. "He is a classy bus fan. All his videos are done by himself. He is a senior at my university," Raian said.
He gave us the Facebook ID of Imrun Hasan. We knocked him several times to have a conversation with him, but he did not respond to our questions.
However, as per Raian's information about "bus fanning" communities on Facebook, we found another YouTuber named Sumon N Mahmud. His YouTube channel "BD Bus Tuber" has nearly 1,50,000 subscribers.
A graduate of Patuakhali Polytechnic Institute, Sumon too makes these "thrilling" videos out of hobby. "I have videos from all routes – Dhaka-Chattogram, Dhaka-Sylhet etc. I like to travel. So, I capture the moments while travelling on buses," Sumon told TBS.
As the conversation went on, Sumon seemed to understand quickly that his activities could put thousands in danger. "As you are saying such videos could cause road accidents, I will quit making these videos," Sumon told us.
Perhaps the other star in this line, Imrul Hasan, also understands how risky speeding buses could be, but he presents such stuff as thrilling events. One of his latest videos titled "CNG auto-rickshaw had a narrow escape," shows the dangerous escape of a CNG auto-rickshaw from a speedy bus.
However, a month after talking to us, Sumon posted two videos on his channel – one is titled "Two Desh Travels and Z line overtake! Thrilling Bus Race!". A week earlier another video was posted titled "Two Shakura (buses) run away".
His videos have earned more than 29 million views in total.
We sent several of such bus race video links to Dr Md Asif Raihan, an assistant professor of Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
Dr Raihan pointed out six observations after watching the mad bus race videos on YouTube:
- Capturing a video so near a driver is a potential safety issue – distracted driving
- Speeding – aggressive driving
- Overtaking, aggressive cutting in or off, honking – road rage
- Passengers, helpers, and video makers are instigating drivers doing such activities – a potential safety threat
- Sharing such videos prompts others to highlight themselves through social media – cheap fame triggering road safety hazards
- If the creation of such videos encourages financial gains – more road safety hazard
"Non-lane based heterogeneous traffic mix operation is present in Bangladesh. We are yet to achieve our road safety goals. Hence, such cheap fame-instigating activities will endanger our road traffic system more for sure," Dr Raihan told TBS.
According to Dr Raihan, a road traffic crash can be described as a failure in the harmonious interaction among the three fundamental components of the road traffic safety system – road, vehicle, and user (human).
He said 90% of the time, users play a major role in triggering a traffic crash. It means the user/human (both driver, passenger or the pedestrian) interacts with the traffic system. Therefore, undoubtedly, drivers play a crucial role in the traffic system.
"Road rage, aggressive driving, and distracted driving are well-known traffic safety challenges for drivers. The most common forms of road rage are tailgating, yelling, honking, making angry gestures, trying to block another vehicle from changing lanes, cutting off another vehicle on purpose, getting out of the vehicle to confront another driver, bumping or ramming another vehicle on purpose, etc.
"On the contrary, speeding can be characterised as the most common form of aggressive driving. Doing any secondary activity while driving will distract the driver's primary task, i.e., driving. And such driving is termed 'distracted driving'. Even a quick glimpse at a billboard while driving falls under the definition of distracted driving," Dr Raihan explained.
We contacted highway police to learn if they monitor the bus race videos on YouTube. "We have many activities to prevent road accidents. But we do not monitor the vlogging yet," said Nazmus Sakib Khan, an additional SP of Operations and Special Affairs.
"Driving is a stressful task. It requires a person to be physically and mentally fit and stable. Any distraction for drivers can be a potential safety hazard. Making videos close to a driver may easily distract him – and cause fatal accidents," Buet's Dr Raihan told The Business Standard.