Road safety has remained elusive four years after nationwide student protests erupted in response to the deaths of two Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College students in an accident in Dhaka in 2018.
The Road Transport Act 2018, which was enacted following the deaths of the two students on July 29, 2018 due to reckless driving, has also yet to be fully implemented.
An initiative to change the law based on proposals from transport owners and workers is underway while the rules of the law have yet to be worked out.
Most of these student demands and directives issued by the authorities have remained on paper without visible change.
Even after several student protests for road safety in 2018, fatal accidents continue to occur on the roads.
Road safety experts and activists have claimed that as the law has not yet been properly enforced and continues to be violated, road safety has been compromised and the situation is getting worse.
Transport leaders have said everyone must obey the law for safe roads.
“If such a big move cannot bring any change, then there is no hope for us anymore,” said Professor Shamsul Hoque of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
“In 2018, the student protests hit our morals, and that was enough to change our society,” he said, adding, “But now we can say that our character remains the same and the road remains chaotic. .”
Thousands of students took to the streets after their two classmates were killed when a reckless driver drove a Jabal-e-Noor company bus off the road and through a crowd while competing with another buses from the same company.
Students demanded the harshest sentences for the bus drivers who killed the two, overpasses and safety measures for student travel, the installation of speed bumps in accident-prone areas, such as in front of schools and colleges, government liability for families of the dead and injured, half fare for students, banning unclean buses and unlicensed drivers on the roads, and banning extra passengers on public transport.
On June 25, 2018, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina issued guidelines to provide rest for drivers every five hours, to employ alternative drivers for long-distance vehicles, training and rest facilities for drivers and their assistants, and the use of seat belts while travelling, and obeying traffic lights.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, 2,635 people were killed in road accidents in 2018, 4,138 in 2019, 3,918 in 2020 and 5,088 in 2021.
The BRTA prepared the report based on initial information from the police, which also indicated that road accidents were on the rise in Bangladesh.
“There is no need to implement some initiatives such as the construction of footbridges and speed bumps as these are temporary solutions,” Professor Shamsul Hoque said.
“We haven’t seen initiatives to make long-term, lasting changes to reduce road deaths,” he said.
Following the student protests, Jatiya Sangsad passed the Road Transport Bill on 19 September 2018, replacing the 1983 Motor Vehicle Ordinance.
Transport workers observed strikes in different districts against the enactment of the law.
The new law entered into force on November 1, 2019, more than 13 months after its adoption.
After protests by transport workers, authorities allowed drivers to drive any vehicle with their existing licenses until June 30, 2020 and asked them to obtain the appropriate BRTA permits by then.
In a circular issued earlier on August 28, 2018, the BRTA said that public transport drivers with legal professional driving licenses for light vehicles and at least one year of experience can apply for permits for medium vehicles, and those with medium vehicle licenses and less than one year of experience could apply for heavy vehicle licenses.
After several extensions, the installations ended in June 2021.
‘What good is a new law if there is no enforcement? Why, after almost every accident, do we still find that the vehicles involved are not in working order or that the drivers do not have the appropriate permits? asked former ARI director Shamsul Hoque.
Jyotirmoy Barua, a Supreme Court lawyer and vice president of the Road Safety Foundation, doubted the effectiveness of the new law.
He said the law encountered difficulties during the implementation phase and there was still uncertainty about its effectiveness due to the general failure of the system.
“Mismanagement, corruption, extortion and the procession of death are always on the roads”, he observed.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Additional Commissioner (Traffic) Munibur Rahman Khan said they were trying to enforce the law.
“Irregularities on the roads are normal. The question is about the rate of irregularities,” he said.
The Covid-induced lockdown affected transport workers and owners, so when they were back on the roads they became desperate to cover losses, he said, adding that it could have caused accidents on roads.
Everyone must obey the law and be careful to protect their own lives, BRTA Chairman Nur Mohammad Mazumder said.
“It will not be possible to ensure road safety unless everyone, including transport owners and workers and ordinary people, take care of their own lives and sincerely abide by the law,” he said. he declared.
Former transport minister Shajahan Khan, also president of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation, said the law could not be implemented overnight.
He said the law was undergoing an amendment process and it had taken time for a new law to come into effect, adding that some initiatives such as toilets for drivers were underway.
“We cannot yet say that the roads are entirely safe,” said former minister of state Moshiur Rahman Ranga, also chairman of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association.
“In many places there are no roads at all, and in some places four and six lane work is going on,” he said.
He added that jaywalking, cooking markets, three-wheelers and motorbikes on the roads should be restricted for safety reasons.
Road Transport and Highways Division Additional Secretary Yousub Ali Mollah said the rules and amendment of some sections of the new road law are in progress.
The law cannot hold a driver liable for causing serious injury by driving carelessly and recklessly, according to draft proposals. Other proposals included lowering minimum education requirements for three-wheeler riders and bailing out offenses related to overloading and modifying the vehicle.