Lives are being lost one after another in road accidents. In most cases, drivers are responsible for accidents. If the drivers are trained and licensed, so many accidents would not have occurred. Upto April 15 this year, the number of registered vehicles across the country are approximately 3.42 million. In Dhaka, the number exceeds 1.1 million. The number of legal drivers against these vehicles are 2.1 million. Hence, the shortage of bonafide drivers is estimated at 1.3 million. In some cases, more than one driver is driving the same car. This means unauthorised drivers are dominating the roads and highways although exact number of unauthorised drivers is not available anywhere.
Passenger Welfare Society, which works for passenger rights, is of the opinion that 5.0 million transports are plying on the roads. According to them, there are7.0 million drivers in the country. Of them, about 5.0 million have no registration. In this situation, road accidents seem quite normal. Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has no effective mechanism to check the unauthorised drivers. BRTA is saying that they are working to control lawlessness in the transport sector. But they have shortage of manpower.
Because of the pressure of transport owners' association and labour unions, BRTA cannot take action against unauthorised transports and drivers. Same situation prevails in the case of police administration. State Minister for Local Government is the President of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association and the Minister for Shipping is the President of Bangladesh Road Transport Sramik Federation. Transport owners and labour unions do not allow the government to take appropriate action. The entire transport sector is controlled by these two organisations. In the case of accidents, the drivers responsible do not get expected punishment.
A proposal for developing trained drivers and bringing changes in fitness tests was prepared with the help of experts as far back as 2007. The proposal was sent to the government. It was placed before the cabinet. But some vested quarters worked against the proposal. As a result, the proposal did not see the light of the day, following which the number of cars is increasing every year. But the number of drivers did not increase to keep pace with increasing number of cars. Hence, road accidents are increasing. People are dying as a result and some are becoming disabled for life.
There remain examples of BRTA giving licence without required test or examination and merely on the basis of recommendations by labour unions. Such number would be about 0.2 million. Their licences were given on the basis of sramik federation recommendations. This was discussed and criticised time and again, but not a single licence was cancelled. This shows that the BRTA could not take a bold stand. Unless laws are properly implemented, accidents will continue to take place exceeding limits. There is demand for appointing the educated unemployed as drivers. Women may also be appointed as drivers.
There are 3.4 million registered transports in the country. But about 5.0 million, including the fake ones, are plying on the roads. About 72 per cent transports are not worthy of fitness. Out of 7.0 million drivers, 2.1 million have valid licences. In the capital, 87 per cent of the bus-minibuses violate traffic rules resulting in accidents, loss of lives and injuries. According to Accident Observation Cell of the Road Transport Association, there were 1,779 accidents from January 18 to April 20 this year during which 1,841 people died and 5,477 injured while 288 more became disabled.
Many transport owners think that half the drivers in Dhaka are not of appropriate age and drug addicts. Most of them do not even have valid licence. Commercial vehicles need more than one driver, but it is not there. Bus owners give vehicles to drivers on contract. The drivers subsequently indulge in unhealthy competition. Therefore, accidents have become common. There is dearth of efficient drivers also. The Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority has held meetings with the owners. Instruction have been given to train the drivers up. Only the owners and BRTA alone cannot address the situation. All sectors concerned should cooperate in this regard.
There are 142 trainers for drivers approved by the BRTA. There are 98 registered driving training schools. But there is no control over these institutes. There is lack of supervision in the country's transport sector. More than 400 cars add to the streets daily across the country. Out of the total, 317 ply on the Dhaka streets. But on an average, even 10 of these new drivers are not ready. Private sector should come forward to bridge the gap. In other countries, private entrepreneurs are doing this work. Hence, a mechanism should be devised here for the involvement of private sector.
A large number of unauthorised drivers are on the roads. It is difficult to ensure road safety under the present circumstances. Hence, BRTA should be a regulatory authority while the private sector has to arrange the supply of drivers. They have to be given this authority. A BRTA official said if unauthorised drivers are spotted in driving vehicles, they should be taken to task by the authorities. Highway police, city police, traffic department, magistrates and district police should work in tandem to contain the unauthorised drivers. The BRTA official, however, said they are working to check accidents and solve the problems related to drivers.
Road accidents are very common in the African continent while accidents are minimum in Europe. Bangladesh in terms of accidents is seventh in South Asia while Singapore has the least number of accidents. Our Road Transport and Bridges Minister said everybody has to extend cooperation to rein in accidents. In our country, laws are not applied duly. Hence, all concerned have to be consulted while making a new legal provision.
There is no discipline in the transportation sector. Death of passengers on the roads are controlled by the drivers belonging to bus, minibus, trucks and the labour leaders. Many are becoming crippled. Sometimes drivers are arrested, but released on bail. Overloading, overtaking, faulty vehicles and illegal occupation of roads are predominantly causing accidents. Even the law enforcing agencies at times feel helpless before them. Changes have to be brought in the road management system. Transport owners, labour leaders, BRTA and the law-enforcing agencies have to jointly address the issue without delay.
Syed Jamaluddin is an economist and columnist.
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