In Bangladesh, roads have virtually become 'death-traps' these days! Recently, the government revealed that 34,918 people died in road accidents during the last ten years, although the latest media reports putting such figure at 20,034. No wonder the number of people seeking admission to hospitals far exceeds the figure recorded in governmental reports.
In spite of countless deaths, injuries, disabilities and ruination of families caused by Bangladesh's road accidents during the last few years, the authorities concerned could hardly be sensitised to action. Actually, the problem is not one of the resources but of leadership, motivation and political will - absence of such factors eventually worsens the situation with recurring calamities and disasters. Both transport workers and owners have found it easy to flout road safety rules due to driving incompetence and greed respectively. As road fitness of vehicles and drivers training are absent, numerous commuters die on roads in the most awful manner.
The transportation sector has been crippled by mismanagement, apathy and negligence with the crisis becoming worse every day. The World Bank reported that road accidents cost Bangladesh one per cent of its gross national income (GNI) worth almost Tk.180 billion per annum. As law enforcement agencies often goes soft, about 45 people are killed every month in road accidents caused by buses. Although a trivial matter in politics, such accidents certainly reflect the brazenness of bus drivers and owners as well as truck operators - they may continue their trade destroying innocent lives while subverting law and justice.
Even in a country like Bangladesh where life extinguishes so easily, a feeling of revulsion exists about the way such lives were lost. Road accidents have become more frequent than ever and hence reinforce the belief that something is awfully wrong in the entire road transport sector. Portraying such tragedies merely as accidents cannot solve the problem. According to the Accident Research Centre (ARC) at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), road accidents annually claim about 12,000 lives and lead to 35,000 injuries approximately - about 2.0 per cent of fatalities were actually children less than 10 years old.
Usually, drivers engage in pathetic "road-rashes" to overtake buses of rival companies in a bid to pick up passengers defying traffic regulations while vehicle owners hardly care whether drivers are having valid license. The paramount task that the government should conduct is to train drivers by setting up public training course counselling centre in tandem with private sector owners. Motivation through counselling is crucial since most drivers within the age of 25-40 years must be aware of total ruination befalling a family following the death or disability of a bread-earner due to accidents caused by reckless driving. Eventually, such training centres can recommend to the Bangladesh Road Transportation Authority (BRTA) to issue driving license to successful trainees. It is estimated that there are about 100,000 vehicles without fitness certificates and there are about 1.0 million drivers against the requirement of 3.0 million for 1.5 million operating vehicles. Besides, almost 500,000 vehicles are run by drivers lacking any valid driving license. ARC also stated that 56 per cent of the patients in orthopaedic hospitals are victims of road accidents. Shockingly, Bangladesh's fatality rate due to road accidents is the world's highest - about 60 per cent of able bodied persons within 16-45 years of age.
CAUSES OF ACCIDENTS: According to police reports, most highway accidents occur due to reckless driving. Is that the only reason? Perhaps, conditions are ideal for road mishaps to happen every second. Causes are manifold such as reckless driving and drunk driving. Driven by helpers without valid licenses, vehicles often overtake on adverse roads with poorly-designed junctions. Besides, unfit vehicles (both mechanised and manual) ply on the same road almost like sluggish rickshaws as well as speedy trucks or buses - multiply to the callous indifference of few law-enforcement personnel.
DRIVER TRAINING & FACILITIES: In order to take care of reckless driving, work-hours for transport workers should be reduced to eight hours a day instead of 16 hours. Plus, they must be provided with training, counselling sessions as well as adequate financial and healthcare benefits. As helpers often become drivers through a kind of informal training, they remain oblivious to the fact that commuters' lives depend on their hands on wheels. So, the government should establish public training centres in tandem with the private sector and recommend driving licenses to BRTA for successful trainees.
HIGHWAYS AND ROAD SIGNS: Undoubtedly, roads have been improved across Bangladesh. However, the country needs more to be done. A gradual but constant development effort should be undertaken by policymakers to sustain roads safety. Authorities can make the road signs at different points more prominent with rightly-placed advertisements - these would be monitored by the police. Evidently, police patrol teams have a scanty presence in Bangladeshi highways. Thus, the number of police patrol teams should be increased with adequate logistics for efficiency.
AWARENESS CAMPAIGN: The government, development organisations, media entities and concerned associations for transport owners and workers should draft massive awareness programs for commuters and pedestrians. An awareness campaign may be of a longer period to enable people to follow traffic regulations. Recently, a South Korean minister resigned simply for overlooking the country's recurring ferry accidents. In Bangladesh, decisions are noted in papers but hardly executed in reality.
It is argued that overtaking, overloading and traumatic road conditions are equally responsible for the dilemma in Bangladesh's road travel. Plus, no routine about timing exists in the sector. Indeed, both drivers and helpers need some rest and vehicles must be checked carefully. Primarily, the weather condition should be considered before moving. Such moves on discipline are compulsory.
Lastly, a sound and safe journey must be the motto - "if there is a good will, there is a good way." Accidents will eventually cease to take place if people find a confidence on the authorities. Since road accidents have made some of our lives very miserable, the government should remove any negligence from Bangladesh's road transportation sector. The attitude of transport workers and owners toward the ordinary lives should be changed. Without being casual, the government must remain alert to incoming problems of countrywide transportation in the long run.
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed is Deputy Director-General and Commandant (PRL) at Ansar-VDP Academy in Safipur, Gazipur