I am writing this piece seeking the indulgence of the majority of those who ride motorbikes on Dhaka roads aware that they are law-abiding users of the road. Unfortunately, a significant number of their fellow motorbike riders are neither law-abiding nor well mannered. I am now afraid to drive and the fear is coming from the motorbike riders. They believe that the car drivers have six sets of eyes, one to look forward, one to see the sides and the last pair to look behind. The motorbike riders come from the right, from the left and the back. The only place they do not come from to surprise the drivers of cars is from the above.
They have now forced a new provision to facilitate their use and their right on the roads. The car/vehicle drivers must ensure that even if they are on the extreme left of the road, they must leave space for the motorbike riders. The point struck me some time ago on Gulshan Avenue between the first circle and the KFC. Just as my car had crossed the traffic light on Gulshan 1 and headed south on the avenue, I heard a loud knock on my car window on my left. I saw a motorbike rider pointing a finger at my driver threateningly and my driver turning his head and gesturing at him, not at all politely.
I lowered my window when the motorbike rider came near it. He was by then abusing the driver. I inquired the reason. He said my driver had hit him! I was amazed because if that was the case, I would have been aware. The motorbike rider was not amazed as I found out a little down the road when my car was taking a right turn to enter Road No 3. He stopped his motorbike right in front of my car forcing it to stop. He then grabbed a wooden plank from a pile left by the road workers and came running towards my car. I froze for a moment but in the next instant, was able to tell him who I was.
My words about who I was had reached his mind, his rage notwithstanding. That I guess made him drop the wooden plank with which he wanted to break my car and physically harm my driver. He brought out from under his shirt what appeared to be his identity card to impress me that he was no ordinary motorbike rider. He told me he was an intelligence officer in civil clothes. Frustrated in his effort to show off his raw power, he indulged himself to lecture me throwing manners by the wayside that it was for people like me that car drivers break traffic laws and why my driver had hit him from the left side and did not care even to stop that was certainly not the case.
I had no way of knowing if he was really an intelligence officer. I was relieved that he had allowed my car and the driver go without any physical or legal damage. But his action later made me think about the motorbikes on the roads and what tension and disorder they cause to the non-motor bikers, particularly like those who use cars. And in thinking about my experience with the motorbike rider, I realised that he had reacted like what has now become the standard way many motorbike riders behave. I also thought perhaps that this individual had pretended to be an intelligence officer when I told him of my background. A good number of the motorbike riders behave on the roads like the intelligence officer who take the law into their hands like they are the law unto themselves.
On the slightest and sometimes at no pretext at all, many motor bike riders behave and misbehave like they have the right to do so. They have no realisation that the car drivers are squeezed for space and they just cannot give them what they want. For instance, the other day, my driver was stuck in one of the regular jams of Dhaka roads, bumper to bumper. A motorbike rider, a young man, turned his bike from nowhere and angrily motioned to my driver to back up so he could wriggle his bike in between! And the way he gestured, it looked like my driver had committed a serious road offence by not keeping space between my car and the car in front and for not making way for him while he was struggling to squeeze his way through.
I asked my driver to ignore this motor biker and his friend, another young man riding in the back. I could do so because I felt that with the traffic as it was and the situation around at that time, he would not be able to behave with me as the alleged intelligence officer had done. My instruction to my driver nevertheless these days is to make every effort to allow these motorbike riders have their way with their illegal and wilful demands because there are many among them that behave as mastans and generally get away. Some of them are also politically connected and that makes matters worse. Usually, the police are of little help to the attitude of this kind of motorbike riders like they too are afraid of them for many among them are in fact politically connected.
The unfortunate predicaments of the users of Dhaka roads are endless. But the Dhaka traffic police could do a big favour to them with the motorbike hazard. The motorbike riders are subject to the same laws as those for the other vehicles on the road. They cannot overtake without a proper signal, endanger other traffic and themselves by wriggling through congested traffic and expecting that to be their right. They should be made aware unequivocally by the police authorities that the car and other vehicle drivers do not see them clearly when they overtake from the sides for there are certain blind spots for the car and the vehicle drivers. Finally, they should not be allowed to take the law into their hands under any circumstances.
It is high time that the traffic police that are these days very effective in issuing tickets to the drivers of cars and other vehicles for parking violations come to the rescue of those that face regular traffic hazards from the motorbike riders. And the motorbike riders are also a great danger to themselves. That should be an additional and compelling reason to apply the law to the motorbike riders on the roads of Dhaka.
The writer is a former career Ambassador.
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