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Why we need highway rest houses for drivers

Shihab Sarkar | Published: August 01, 2019 21:34:01


The government has recently decided to construct four rest houses for truck and bus drivers at four points beside highways. It appears as a welcome mixture of empathy and concern for security and safety of the drivers and passengers during the vehicles' long travels almost without pause. The task of being at the steering, with alert eyes focused on the road ahead, and the time interspersed with occasional chatting over mobile phones, is gruelling. Few jobs are as monotonous and nerve-racking as driving for long hours and even late into the night. Upon realising this plight of the truck-bus drivers, the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) has embarked on the unique project of treating the country's highway drivers with compassion and humaneness. There are no rest house facilities for highway drivers in the country at the moment, especially truck drivers. The bus drivers, and also passengers, enjoy the facilities of stopping at roadside restaurants every four to five years. Thus the rest houses are meant especially for truck drivers. Following the successful launch of the four rest houses, more such bungalows will be built on other national highways. Initially, the four rest houses are set to be built at Nimshar, Jagadishpur, Pachila and Laxmikandar in Cumilla, Habiganj, Magura and Sirajganj districts respectively. The highways covered by these rest houses are Dhaka-Chattogram, Dhaka-Sylhet, Dhaka-Rangpur and Dhaka-Khulna stretches. These rest houses are planned to be constructed as two-storey buildings with facilities for overnight stay, recreation outlets like TV, food, tea/coffee and parking space. The building will have workshop facilities for heavy vehicles.

The whole project is the brainchild of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Noticing the rising spate of accidents on the country's highways, the prime minister instructed the authorities not to engage bus and truck drivers for more than five hours at a stretch. She was sensitive enough to feel the extent of physical and mental exhaustion of the drivers caused by long hours of monotonous driving, sleeplessness, hunger and remaining almost secluded. Driving throughout the night leading to drowsiness and with no replacements often leads to fatal accidents in Bangladesh. It is a feature that noticeably dominates the country's road transport sector.        

Developed countries are infallibly mindful of the imperative that the highway drivers should have enough rest and leisure during their inter-state travels. We can turn to a country with a vast land mass. Notwithstanding the changing landscapes on the two sides of the road, drivers on these highways too find the job tedious. Driving a giant bus or a heavy lorry on a seemingly endless highway at some time turns out to be filled with boredom. What the drivers on these highways lack most is recreation and raucous fun.  At times, the arduous job of driving might turn out to be nerve-shattering. The hour of the day or night doesn't matter much here. It could be high noon or the hours approaching midnight. The point to ponder here is the drivers' loneliness, despite being accompanied, on occasions, by co-drivers. The built-in and ear-phoned music gadget is not of much help here. In such a situation at night the driver asks his assistant to keep talking to him without pause so that he doesn't pass out due to sleep and exhaustion. What the drivers need most in such long driving assignments is the warmth of human company. These spectacles are common in large countries like the USA, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, or, for that matter, Russia. As a job prerequisite, the highway drivers in these countries hardly feel any dearth of rest houses. Even the inter-regional drivers of these long-haul vehicles in India are familiar with these stopovers. They call them 'dhabas'. A 'dhaba' is mainly an eatery. But arrangements of overnight stay and light recreations distinguish them these days. In the middle ages, the camel riding caravans of traders in western and southern parts of Asia were used to 'serai' or inns. Those were in fact walled and highly fortified enclosures with facilities for rest and sleep by tired tradesmen and the camels. Attacks by hordes of robbers on these inns to loot the camels and tradable goods were common in those days. Perhaps it was one of the reasons why the main iron gate of these inns was closed after sunset.

In the modern times, upon a broad appraisal of the whole episode, the reality that lingers on the mind is the drivers' exhaustion caused by remaining awake for hours on end. It prompted them to pull in into the nearest rest houses. Moreover, the truck drivers, those who remain at the wheel almost without break, need leg-stretch. Most of them skip it in order to reach their deliveries on time to destinations, and enjoy extra time-off later. However, the truck drivers in many developed countries can avail of the opportunities to stop by the road, enter an open and commercial resting compound, use the washrooms and have snacks or food.

In India, truck and bus drivers mostly stop by 'dhabas' (eateries with toilet facilities) and pass a few hours eating and gossiping with fellow drivers. These centres remain open twenty-four hours. Some can sleep the night out at these 'dhabas' on highways. Bangladesh has not had these facilities for drivers on highways until the initial work began on the proposed 'rest houses'. After all, inter-city or inter-district non-stop plying of buses and trucks began in this country not long ago. But notwithstanding this short history, highways and the heavy vehicles moving along them have assumed a critical importance in the country's national life. Apart from buses and passenger coaches, the carrying of export and import goods by highway trucks, covered vans etc is fast becoming an inseparable part of the national economy. Perhaps in view of these developments, the government has decided to set up 'rest houses' for bus and truck drivers along the country's vital highways.

However, the issue of terrible highway accidents cannot be overlooked. Of all the modes of transport, including waterways, the highways are considered the most dreadful. It mainly results from faulty, nonprofessional and reckless driving. Highway experts have long singled out the reasons behind these mishaps. According to Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Organisation, an estimated 7,221 people died in road accidents in 2018. These mindless deaths could have been averted had the bus or truck drivers operated their vehicles in sound health and mental condition. The proposed rest houses for drivers can play a critical role in reining in these tragic facilities. Proper sleep and rest never let a person get overcome by emotional excesses. One who rests and sleeps well and keeps a routine for daily activities remains awake even in his subconscious. Common sense and day-to-day wisdom hardly leaves him. Rest houses for drivers, thus, prompt many to foresee a radical cut in highway chaos, dominated by accident victims. Moreover highway rest houses are fast becoming a dominant prerequisite for trading. They enable businesses to carry import and export goods overland in a relaxed manner. Highways with well-built rest houses for drivers are, thus, as important as the hazard free sea routes.

shihabskr@ymail.com

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