Sharp rise in deaths on roads
Most road accidents occur due to over-speeding of vehicles and desperate attitude of drivers. This is the finding of the research institute of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). The research covered the period from 1998 to 2015. According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), 2,394 people were killed in road accidents in 2015. According to the Passenger Welfare Association, about 8,000 people died in road accidents in 2015. The national highways accounted for 43 per cent of road accidents. Two big accidents took place in Faridpur and Narsingdi on February 10 due to the reasons mentioned above. These accidents claimed 26 lives. In two days following these accidents, another 50 people lost their lives in road mishaps.
The National Road Security Council in a meeting decided to control speed of vehicles on the roads. The Road Transport Minister is the head of this Council. Apart from vehicle owners and workers, different government departments and civil society members are represented in it. The Council fixed the highest speed limit at 80km per hour. But this could not be implemented. Many efforts have been made to control speed but fruitful results were not achieved. In some roads separate lanes are planned for low-speed vehicles. Police have been given speed gun and equipment for examining drivers' licences.
The Secretary of the Road Transport Ministry said high speed is mainly responsible for accidents. Speeding is done to meet the greed of vehicle owners and workers. Initiatives have been taken to control speed but results are not promising. The Secretary also said the Ministry will continue to make efforts in this connection. Separate lanes are being built on Dhaka-Rangpur and Dhaka-Mawa Highways for low-speed vehicles. The same arrangement will be made on Dhaka-Sylhet Highway.
Three aspects--engineering, education and enforcement or application of laws--need to be ensured. Application of laws and provision of education are not there. But there are engineering faults. Most buses ply at a speed of more than 80km per hour. Every minute one vehicle is trying to overtake the other. Therefore, accidents cannot be reduced without speed control.
The BRTA has issued licences for 102 driver training institutes in the country. These institutes are expected to offer training for issue of licences. But most of these are non-existent. Licences are procured through 'agents'. Since 1990, a total of 1,90,000 licences were issued based on the lists of workers' unions but fitness tests were not conducted properly.
Currently, there are licences for 1.7 million drivers and the number of vehicles exceeds 2.7 million. Thus licences total one million lower than the number on the roads. Those who obtained licences have no scope of training. Some non-governmental organisations have limited training facilities. There is also no means for checking the validity of licences.
The Ministry of Roads and Highways has been implementing three-year work programmes since1997. So far 7 work programmes have been executed. According to the latest projection, road accidents are to be reduced to the extent of 50 per cent by 2024. But different private organisations have given figures that do not reflect this trend. In 2008, the programme was named as National Road Safety Strategic Action Plan. It was indicated in this plan that12/20 per cent accidents would be reduced by 2016.
In the latest work plan, 9 steps were identified to reduce accidents. These were also found in the previous plans. The steps include road safety plan, data base on road accidents, safety engineering plan, management and coordination, updating of road safety rules and laws, strengthening of traffic system, training of drivers, increasing the number of training centres, ensuring safety of vehicles, inclusion of road safety in textbooks, increasing awareness among the public and setting up of emergency medical centres near highways.
A road safety sub-committee was set up in 2011 following the death of film personality Tareq Masud and journalist Mishuk Munir in a road accident. The committee made 52 recommendations. These were mostly related to increasing awareness, driver training, preparation of data base and application of laws. Setting up of cameras on highways and establishing police check posts in roads were also included in the recommendations. The process of including road safety in text-books is in progress.
Film star Ilias Kanchan the founder of Safe Roads Campaign, said restricting deaths on roads is not getting priority. According to him, a separate Division in the Ministry of Round Transport and Bridges is needed to look after all aspects of road accidents including rehabilitation of those affected, road discipline and conducting training. All aspects of road accidents have to come under one roof. Otherwise nobody will take the responsibility.
The United Nations made a declaration to reduce death in road accidents by 50 per cent between 2011 and 2020. Bangladesh signed this protocol. The UN also pleaded for 10 per cent of funds for road-building projects should be spent for road safety. The Department of Roads and Highways is implementing a large number of projects. But it is not known how much of their budget is spent on road safety. The Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) is also doing nominal work for road safety.
The present situation of road accidents cannot be allowed to continue if we really mean to save lives on roads. Questions have been raised about corruption involved in issuance of driving licences. A thorough recasting of the road traffic system is called for. The authorities must wake up to their responsibilities.
The writer is an economist and columnist.