Today is National Road Safety Day. This day comes at a time when safety on the roads in Bangladesh is a great concern for citizens. The Business Standard spoke to Kazi Md. Shifun Newaz, Assistant Professor of Accident Research Institute, Buet and Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, Secretary General of Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity on the issue.
Increasing passengers' awareness is a must
Three kinds of people are related to the transport sector—the owners, the drivers, and passengers. All these sections of people are unaware about traffic rules.
Firstly, the owners' unawareness gets exposed when they do not seek to know if the drivers who they are entrusting the vehicles with are drug-addicted, if they are overdriving, or if they do not have driving license. Many of the owners entrust their vehicles with random drivers without inspecting them properly.
Secondly, the drivers' unawareness gets exposed when they drive recklessly on the roads risking the lives of the passengers and the pedestrians. There are many drivers who do not inspect the state of the vehicle properly before getting on the roads.
They should inspect if the brakes or the tires of their vehicles are functioning properly. Uninspected vehicles are more prone to accidents.
And thirdly, our passengers and pedestrians are largely unaware of traffic rules and safety. They are seen to cross the roads defying the queues of cars rushing through. We often see on the streets of Dhaka city that people tend to cross roads risking their lives although there are foot-over-bridges near them.
When a vehicle runs at a speed of 60 to 70km/h, it runs past 100feet in just 2 seconds. If a person gets in front of the car at that moment, it is really tough for the drivers to control the vehicle. As a result, the pedestrians do not only risk their own lives but also of the drivers and the passengers.
Our passengers are prone to getting on buses from random places. They also ask the drivers to let them get off from the vehicles in the middle of busy roads even though there are designated bus stoppages in the city. This creates anarchy on the streets. This is a sheer instance of passengers' unawareness.
To increase awareness among the owners and drivers, it must be ensured that they are brought to book for their failure to ensure the fitness of the vehicles and safe driving on the roads. The drivers should be instructed properly so that they do not drive recklessly or drive under influence.
And for the passengers, a campaign to make them aware is a must. Social and Behavioural Change Campaigns (SBCC) using the radio, television or electric media, and extensive programmes can help to increase awareness among passengers and pedestrians. The government should think about introducing the importance of traffic rules and regulations in the academic curriculum as well.
Kazi Shifun Newaz is the Assistant Professor of Accident Research Institute, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet)
Dismantle transport owners' syndicate for safer roads
The Road Transport Act 2018 came into being basically for two reasons. There was a High Court ruling to turn the ordinances issued by the previous military governments into law and a raging movement for safer roads that put the government in crisis. Under pressure, the government had no options but to pledge to devise a modern law.
But in the process of doing so, the government was seen bowing down to the syndicate of transport owners' associations again and again. The Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity voiced against these issues from time to time, and the media also played their role in spreading our messages. In spite of many challenges, however, a law was passed which took as a good initiative in a sense that something is better than nothing. But afterwards, we found too many demands of the owners' associations were reflected in the law.
We all know that six out of eleven members of the committee for devising the Act were members of owners' associations. As a result, the government officials could not play enough role. Instead, the influential members of owners' associations appeared the key players.
Since a bill was placed at the parliament for debate, we have been voicing this law, once passed, would not be serving the general people properly. As per the new law, the public transport sector will now be controlled more by the party affiliated people.
he previous law allowed the transport regulatory committee to be comprised of representatives from both owners' and workers' associations. But the new law requires the members to be supported by the government.
We see the people aspiring to run the transport sector change their political colour with the change of governments. Protected by the ruling party, these people create anarchy in the transport sector by going in for extortion to hooliganism through their vicious syndicate. Now, the new law will let these miscreants loose with their ill motives. We have long been demanding the elimination of extortion in terminals and in the transport sector. And unfortunately this law will not help us in achieving that.
A vicious ring of vindictive extortionists grows up under the shade of this powerful syndicate. If the flow of black money cannot be eliminated, the government will lose control over the sector. Any good law is sure to fail if the government cannot dismantle this syndicate.
We have previously seen instances of drivers killing people deliberately, be it killing passengers by throwing out of cars or running vehicles over the people. As per the new law, criminals in such cases are sentenced to five years in prison. Previously, the sentence in such cases was three years in jail. But the owners' syndicate is inciting protests and violence among the workers with a false assertion that the law prescribes death sentence in case of road accidents. They are out on an ill motive that is forcing the government to revise the law to serve their interests even further.
We believe the government will not bow down to them. If any law in pursuit of safer roads is to succeed, we believe the government should be more willing to modernise the relevant law, along with dismantling the vicious syndicate, for the interest of the common people.
Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury is the secretary general of the Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity