About 59 per cent of the motorcycle drivers do not have a licence. Which is probably why motorcycles are second in the chart of vehicles involved with road accidents. Yet, every year, 150,000 new motorcycles hit the road.
To address the problem, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) is planning to make it a must to have a licence for buying a motorcycle. However, neither can they issue the licences, nor can they conduct standard tests.
BRTA data say as of March this year there were 3.9 million registered vehicles, 2.5 million of which were motorcycles. However, only over 1 million of them are driven by registered bikers, meaning there are 1.5 million who ride without licences.
A senior BRTA official told Prothom Alo, "If one of a family has a motorcycle, the others also use it. So, the number of registered riders should be more than the number of motorcycles. But the picture is quite the opposite here in Bangladesh, where the number of registered bikers is less than that of motorcycles."
According to Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology's Accident Research Institute (ARI), bus and minibus are responsible for most of the road accidents, followed by motorcycles.
Jatri Kalyan Samity, a platform of the commuters, however, say trucks and covered vans are involved in road accidents in most cases (29 per cent of the accidents in 2018) while motorcycles (25 per cent) comes next.
Motorcycle importing companies enjoy up to 20 per cent duty free facility, which has led to big international brands starting their business in Bangladesh. Entrepreneurs say around 500,000 motorcycles are assembled or made in the country.
A meeting at the road transport ministry on 13 May was told that a number of recent road accidents were caused by motorcyclists who did not have a licence. The importers also shared their opinion in the meeting, but no significant decision was made on the day.
Businessmen say if the government makes it a must to have a licence to buy a motorcycle, the public will suffer as middlemen will enter the scene. Besides, sale of motorcycles will also decrease.
A BRTA officer seeking anonymity said, such a decision will not bring any results in reality. Because, someone who has a licence will buy multiple motorcycles. The number of middlemen will increase. It will rather be better if the BRTA can be involved in the licence issuing process, but their capacity has to be augmented.
Shah Md Ashikur Rahman, head of Honda Bangladesh's finance department, said it takes a year or more for a rider to get a licence. They do not have the capacity to verify if a licence is authentic or not. If BRTA wants, they are willing to help to ensure the safety of the riders by providing them with training.
A driver has to get a learner's card first, which takes three working days. Then he has to sit for written and practical (field) tests to get the main licence. When someone gets a learner's card from one BRTA's three offices, they are given a date about a year later for their final test.
At present, 92,535 people are waiting for their final test at the BRTA's Mirpur office only. After they pass, they need to complete some other formalities like depositing money, having their photo and fingerprints taken and so on, which takes a few more months. People turn to the middlemen or brokers in such cases.
Transport expert professor Shamsul Huq told Prothom Alo that the two-wheelers are 30 per cent more likely to be involved in a road accident than a four-wheeler.
"BRTA is issuing many licences, but they do not have the capacity to conduct tests. They do not have a certain policy, which is a problem for this sector," he said.
BRTA chairman Mashiur Rahman admitted that the increasing number of motorcycles is a threat to road safety. But they are trying their best to restore order on the road.
* The report, appeared in Prothom Alo’s print edition, has been rewritten in English by Quamrul Hassan