The speedy approval of the draft Road Transport Act by the cabinet does not contain any element of surprise. There had to be something as a goodwill gesture -- if not for anything else, at least for the sake of the teenage students demanding safe roads. It surely smacks of a political overture. Nothing wrong if such overtures fulfil the demands of students, making the city's and the rest of the country's roads and highways tolerably disciplined and safe for commuting and long journeys. The most important question, therefore, is if the proposed road transport act has been framed well enough to take care of the gargantuan mismanagement and systemic aberrations created deliberately or by default. The first impression is not quite encouraging, though.
Clearly, the emphasis is on cure not on prevention. Even the recipe for cure looks lopsided. But first the preventive aspects. Is not it necessary to look deep inside the transport sector and make a thorough assessment of the fault lines in order to prevent things going wrong? The drivers are not the only players at fault. They are at fault because the system has made them so. When licences can be obtained in exchange for money, the main culprit is the issuing party. It is an institutional failure where the authority has left room for such ethical regression. Then the transport sector is infamous allegedly for realising illegal tolls amounting to millions of taka on a daily basis by vested interest quarters. Without dismantling this powerful and vicious cycle, the sector cannot be streamlined. The draft act is apparently too inadequate to address this mafia-like monetary transaction. Unless such issues are addressed at the highest level, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority will only play at the hands of the vested interest gangs.
So far as the raising of imprison terms and amount of fines for offences committed by drivers is concerned, those are unlikely to act as a deterrent to culpable crimes if the drivers are not screened on the basis of regular tests. In developed countries drivers' fitness is brought under the scanner periodically. In the same breath, the fitness and maintenance of the vehicles they drive also play a major role in avoiding accidents. When the number of unregistered vehicles here is just fewer than the registered one by a small margin, the extent of entrenched corruption can be well imagined.
So there is need for taking care of both human and mechanical aspects in order to get the traffic system disciplined. Awarding punishment alone cannot bring about the desired change. Drivers are human beings who cannot be compelled to work long hours and asked to be high on alert on the roads and highways. In this context the prime minister's advice for not compelling drivers to drive for more than six hours at a stretch fell on deaf years. Also without decent wages, transport workers will feel tempted to overwork. Then vehicles running out of economic life and not maintained regularly can cause fatal accidents. In such cases, not drivers but owners are to blame. Admittedly, the whole gamut of traffic management needed closer scrutiny and detailed remedial measures.
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