More than 1.3 million motorcyclists, or 35 per cent of the riders across Bangladesh, drive without a licence – a factor blamed for a rising number of deadly road crashes.
According to Bangladesh Road Safety Foundation, 5,371 road accidents occurred in 2021 throughout the country. At least 6,284 people died in those accidents while 7,468 people were injured.
At least 2,214 of them died in 2,078 motorcycle accidents. The rate of motorcycle accidents stood at 38.68 per cent and the death rate at 35.23 per cent of the total accident fatalities, reports bdnews24.com.
As of April 2022, the number of motorcycle accidents has increased compared to last year.
A total of 1,733 road accidents have claimed the lives of 2,144 people and at least 723 of them, or nearly 42 per cent, were motorcycle accidents in the first four months of 2022. As many as 830 people died in motorbike accidents which is 38.71 per cent of the total death toll.
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority or BRTA, more than 3.6 million motorcycles are registered with them, while the licence has been issued for a little over 2.3 million.
The National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation or NITOR bears witness to the fact that untrained motorcyclists are becoming more involved in accidents. Most of the patients on Wednesday were on motorcycles during accidents.
Only three of the 10 patients injured in motorcycle accidents said they had driving licences.
One of the patients, Nazimuddin, 24, from Narayanganj's Sonargaon, has no motorcycle or licence. He was injured while driving a friend’s motorcycle.
Rachchu Sheikh from Tungipara in Gopalganj was admitted to the hospital on Mar 30. He, too, was met with an accident while driving his friend's motorcycle. Both he and his friend did not have a licence.
“A truck rammed our motorcycle in Gopalganj city. I got the nerves in my leg damaged and can't undergo an orthopaedic surgery until that is fixed," Rachchu said.
Another young man, Ripon Mia from Narshingdi's Madhabdi, broke his leg in a motorcycle accident on the Eid-ul-Fitr day.
Ripon said he bought the motorcycle two months ago but had yet to get a licence. “I just bought a new Honda. Actually, I was thinking about getting a licence but had an accident before I got it." Motorcycles, irrespective of their brands, are often called Honda in Bangladesh.
Other patients injured in motorcycle accidents, including Siam Mollah from Manikganj, Sabuj Khan from Kishoreganj and Saiful Islam from Shariatpur, did not have a driving licence.
On average, 200 patients injured in road accidents come to the hospital seeking treatment daily, said Professor Md Jahangir Alam of NITOR. He said there is an uptick in road accident cases this year, especially during the Eid holidays.
"At least 35 to 40 per cent of our patients come injured in motorcycle accidents."
In his experience, most of the motorcycle accidents occur outside Dhaka and the riders mostly do not have a driving licence.
“Not many motorcycle accidents occur in Dhaka as the riders cannot drive fast due to traffic jams. Also, it is quite hard to drive a motorcycle in Dhaka without a licence."
“Those who come from outside Dhaka think they can just buy the motorbike and there's no need to get a licence; or even to know and abide by the rules," he said.
Getting a driving licence is legally mandatory, said BRTA Director (Road Safety) Mahbub-E-Rabbani.
"Licence is the proof that the individual can drive a vehicle. A person is issued a driving licence after a number of tests. They have to sit for an exam studying the rules and regulations of driving and the traffic laws."
Most of the motorbike riders without having a licence belong to the age group below 18 years, said Kazi Md Saifun Newaz, assistant professor at Accident Research Institute of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
“They can't get a licence for their age and also, they take the risk [to drive without a licence] and drive recklessly. Older people drive safer, even if they don't have a licence."
In 2019, the BRTA registered 401,452 motorcycles. The figure was 311,016 in 2020 and 375, 252 in 2021. The country was under lockdown most of the time in those two years with the economic activities stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As of February this year, a total of 84,583 motorbikes were registered with the BRTA. If the current rate of registration goes on, the number will exceed 500,000 this year.
The number of motorcycles was 755,514 in 2010, which shows an increase of 2.8 million in the last 12 years.