More than a year ago, the Road Transport Act, 2018 was passed in parliament. Now it has formally come into effect. Hefty financial penalty or fine for violating traffic rules is the main characteristic of the new law. The amount of fine has increased as high as 50 times without mentioning any minimum limit. For instance, violating the traffic signal will compel a driver to pay Tk 10,000 instead of Tk 200.
Fine is the only penalty for a series of traffic rule violations. These include: wrong parking, drive on the opposite direction, not fastening the seat belt, not using helmet, using mobile phone while driving and jaywalking. Earlier, fine for any of this was Tk 200. Now for wrong parking and not using helmet, the fine is Tk 5,000 each while for other violations fine is Tk 10,000 each.
There is no doubt that the hefty amount of fine has already alerted drivers and owners of different motor vehicles. They understand that they have to be highly cautious while driving and follow the traffic rules very strictly. At the same time a valid concern is also there regarding the implementation of the law rightly and slapping fines indiscriminately.
There is no doubt that the ongoing practice of enforcing traffic rules is largely discriminatory. In many cases, the traffic police impose fine selectively. Their easiest target is private car and CNG-run auto rickshaws. Despite being the most notorious and maximum violators, most of the motorcyclists go unpunished. When some 50,000 motorcycles run on the roads in Dhaka daily, around 4.0 per cent of those face fines and cases daily on an average. Again, a number of them faces penalty for minor or negligible or unintended violation. As they are ordinary people, it is easy to slap fine on them. Most of the violations by motorcyclists go unpunished mainly due to two reasons. One is, a number of them are cadres and activists of political party in power or member of different law enforcing agencies or otherwise have connection with some influential quarters. Another reason is lack of an adequate number of law enforcers and surveillance tools to track a large number of motorcycles on road.
Public buses and minibuses are another major violators of traffic rules and largely responsible for chaos and accidents on roads. On an average, the traffic police in Dhaka lodge 1,300 cases daily against the buses which indicate the level of violation by the buses. Nevertheless, little improvement is there as most of the buses continue to drive recklessly. Bus owners' and workers' associations are very powerful and backed by a number of ministers and lawmakers.
It appears that the government is trying to discipline the traffic on roads by imposing hefty fines. No doubt that previous rate of fine was low and not effective enough to curb indiscipline on roads. But 50 times increase of fines is not only unprecedented but also opens a scope for underhand dealing. Without ensuring non-discriminatory execution of law, hefty fines may help inflate the government coffer but is unlikely to bring the desirable discipline on roads.