The tragic road accidents that take place everyday in the country have brought about a sense of insecurity among the people when they travel short or long distances.
On February 11 and 12, two major road accidents took place. One occurred at Nagarkanda of Fridpur leaving 13 persons dead and 33 persons injured. The head-on collision between a passenger bus and a covered van set both the vehicles on fire. All 13, including two drivers, were reportedly burnt to death. The second accident occurred at Narsingdi between a passenger bus and a microbus. Eleven passengers of the microbus died on the spot. A Bengali daily reports that 75 persons died of road accidents in 5 days during February 11-15. It means on an average 15 persons die in road accidents everyday. Thus in 365 days, there is the likelihood of 5475 deaths in road accidents.
Government statistics suggests death of about two thousand people, on an average, every year in road accidents for the last three years. Some organisations work on this subject. One such organisation is Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association. According to its estimates, in 2016 alone, there occurred 4,312 road accidents in which the death toll was 6,055. These figures suggest how unsafe road journey in Bangladesh is. It speaks volumes about the chaotic traffic system in the country.
Various studies reveal that more road accidents occur during the two Eid holidays when a large number of people make journeys. The number of road accidents increase during the rainy season as the roads become slippery. Dense fog during the winter also causes road accidents. But in the two accidents mentioned, it was neither fog nor rain that can be blamed. Many people attribute the cause of such accidents to reckless driving. Here comes the question of the competence of the drivers - their age, maturity and qualifications. If the drivers are not competent enough, they are likely to indulge in reckless driving.
At an early stage of professional career, when this writer learnt how to drive a jeep in Chittagong 40 years ago, the trainer, who was a driver of the district administration's transport pool, had warned him about three factors responsible for accidents - over-speeding, overtaking and overloading. My trainer-driver Musa was absolutely right. The recent fatal accidents at Nagarkanda and Narsingdi and some other places were due to over-speeding and overtaking. Other road accidents take place due to violation of traffic rules, arrogance of the drivers, negligence of passers-by and unfit condition of the vehicles.
Very recently, the Mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation announced a programme of disciplining the city bus service. It includes banning of vehicles over 20 years' old and nabbing unlicensed and underage drivers. The Mayor is reported to have held a meeting with Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) and Deputy Commissioner's office before announcing this decision. This is a noble move and if could be implemented, it would make a positive impact on Dhaka's traffic system.
It is true that most of the drivers in Bangladesh do not have institutional driving knowledge or education nor do they have knowledge about traffic rules. Many drivers are alleged to have fake driving licences. There are many young boys who drive town-service buses and human haulers. They are below 20 years of age defying the prerequisite of 20 years of age to qualify for a professional driving licence. The condition of the minibuses in Dhaka city looks utterly deplorable; still they ply the city streets unhindered. Vehicles in the city do not follow the minimum norms of parking. Many organisations even do not have their parking places. Often half or even two-thirds of a street is occupied by vehicles of different organisations and vehicles of people having business with those organisations. The buses, cars, human haulers, auto-rickshaws and rickshaws are parked all over the places. Because of the car-choked streets, vehicles carrying VIPs are found plying the wrong side of the streets. Therefore, the whole traffic system is in a chaotic condition.
There is indiscipline in the highways which are very visible. At the moment, it seems the authorities are too busy with the construction of 4-lane highways, flyovers and bridges. But no serious initiatives are noticeable in bringing discipline in the highways. The concerned ministries, BRTA, law-enforcement agencies and the district administration - all are responsible for maintaining discipline in the highways. For this purpose, regular monitoring is a pre-condition. The road transport system, enforcement of traffic rules, causes of accidents and their prevention should be reviewed regularly both at the central and district levels. Weigh machines and CCTV cameras should be installed in the highways. Awareness programmes should be pursued vigorously. Facilities should be created for institutional training of intending drivers. Regional Transport Authority (RTA) under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioners should be revived. Above all, political will and the role of the concerned ministries are very important.
The writer is a former secretary to the
government and an economist.