A woman and her daughter died after another vehicle hit their battery-run rickshaw van on the highway near Nalka in Sirajganj on Sunday. Although the police are looking for the vehicle that broke the rickshaw van in the middle, the driver of the van was most likely responsible for the accident.
It appeared that the van was crossing the highway, said Mosaddek Ali, chief of Bangabandhu Bridge West Police Station.
In Bangladesh, non-motorised three-wheelers are banned from highways, where heavy vehicles are allowed to run at a high speed. But the slow-moving vehicles keep running on the highways despite the ban, pushing up the number of deadly accidents, reports bdnews24.com.
Unskilled drivers, slow speed, technical flaws and improper brakes in these vehicles make them vulnerable to accidents on the roads dominated by trucks and buses.
Even if the three-wheel vehicles are allowed to run on the local streets, they should be brought under regulation, people in the transport sector said. The vehicles must be registered and the drivers should be trained and licensed properly.
In 2020, nearly 9 per cent of road crash victims could have been saved if the ban on non-motorised vehicles had been followed strictly. At least 310 of the 3,558 people who died in road accidents in 2020 were either passengers or drivers of different types of three-wheelers, according to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
As road accidents skyrocketed, the government banned three-wheel and non-motorised vehicles on 22 highways across the country in August 2015. Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader joined the launch of a drive to move the slow vehicles from highways at that time. The ban, however, could not prevent those vehicles from running on the highways.
Some of these vehicles are locally made and run by shallow engines or Chinese batteries. Others are imported from India and run by diesel or compressed natural gas or CNG, said Professor Md Hadiuzzaman, director of ARI.
They are given different names -- Bhatbhati, Nasiman, Kariman or Alamsadhu. Also, battery-run and rickshaw vans are increasingly plying local streets and highways although Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan announced the non-motorised vehicles will stay banned after a meeting of a taskforce in June last year.
Despite the announcements, the government could do little to stop the slow-moving vehicles from running on highways. “They get on the highways from a connecting road. They make a turn suddenly and sometimes come from the opposite direction. Some spots on the highways to the north have become waiting places for battery-run rickshaws,” said Paimul Islam, a supervisor of Hanif Paribahan that operates long-haul bus services.
A driver of an Ahad Paribahan bus that runs between Panchagarh and Sylhet described the non-motorised vehicles as “torture” for bus or truck drivers on the highways.
“They [non-motorised vehicles] follow no rules. They take the wrong lane the moment they see a little traffic jam. At night, they are not visible which poses a risk of accidents.”
Three-wheelers are mostly seen in Dinajpur, Gaibandha’s Gobindaganj, Bogura’s Mokamtala, Sirajganj’s Kodda, Gazipur’s Kaliakoir, and Dhaka’s Ashulia, Savar, Jatrabari, Signboard, Shimrail and Brahmanbaria Road, according to the driver.
These vehicles are made with improper brakes and it is difficult to maintain balance properly, said Prof Hadiuzzaman.
“These vehicles may turn over on slopes or while making a turn. The rate of deaths among the drivers and passengers of these vehicles when hit by bigger vehicles is quite high. Besides these, the drivers are not trained.”
As the three-wheelers have become a popular mode of transport for local travel, especially for a short distance, they cannot be banned overnight, said Hadiuzzaman.
“Vehicles like small bus or microbus can be used for short-distance travel. A service road parallel to a highway will be a better option as in any case heavy vehicles will run at a high speed on the highways.”
“You don’t need technical knowledge to understand that highways are meant for big vehicles with a high speed. Obviously, there'll be a disaster if you allow both high-speed and slow-moving vehicles together. This is what we’re experiencing now,” said Faruk Talukdar Sohel, managing director of Shohagh Paribahan.
He stressed the need for using ‘scientific management and systems that are acknowledged globally,’ to get rid of this problem.
“If you want to somehow continue the existing system, it’ll go on. But we’ll have to witness the unfortunate accidents more often and won’t be able to stop them.”