38pc heavy vehicles run by unlicensed driversHeavy vehicles ply the roads for long stretches of time and each vehcile requires at least three drivers per trip. However, 38.49 per cent of the drivers of such vehicles do not have any licenses, says Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA).
According to the motor vehicle ordinance, heavy vehicles include buses, trucks and special vehicles like lorries and cement mixer machines while light vehicles include motor cars, taxicabs, microbuses, 'human haulers', ambulances, pickups and so on.
BRTA says there are 155,000 drivers with licenses for heavy vehicles, though the number of heavy vehciles is 252,000. And for 700,000 light vehicles, there are only liucensed drivers 170,000.
Speaading is one of the main causes of road accidents involving heavy vehicles. The motor vehicle ordinance stipulates that a heavy vehicle driver cannot drive more than eight hours a day, not more than five hours at a stretch, and not more than 48 hours in a week. The owners of the vehicles are bound to ensure that these rules are being followed.
Sources at the road transport ministry and the transport owners and workers association said a large section of the heavy vehicle owners are from the ruling party. These political leaders also control the transport owners and workers associations.
Mashiur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, the largest association of the bus owners, is the general secretary of Jatiya Party and a former Awami League state minister. Another ruling party man, Khandakar Enayet Ullah, vice president of Dhaka metropolitan (south) Awami League, is the organisation's general secretary.
Shajahan Khan, member of the parliament from the Awami League and former shipping minister, is the executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, country's top workers' platform.
Triple number of drivers needed
The heavy vehicles are generally commercial. According to the motor vehicle ordinance, the minimum age for a driver is 21 years whereas it is 18 for light vehicles.
The process to receive a driving license for heavy vehicle is rigorous as requires a three-year experience of driving a medium vehicle. It requires another three-year experience in the medium phase to receive one for heavy vehicles.
Sometimes, a number of trucks and covered vans remain on the road for two to three days at a stretch. Due to this and for the long route journeys, also in line with the motor vehicle ordinance, triple the number of drivers are needed than the existing number.
BRTA chairman Mashiur Rahman admitted the crisis of drivers to Prothom Alo and said that, due to the crisis, BRTA has reduced the duration of experience essential for receiving licenses. A driver can receive license after one year experience at each phase. Despite this, drivers are less interested in heavy vehicles.
According to a number of drivers who drive buses and trucks along long routes and in Dhaka, almost all the drivers of the heavy vehicles were conductors or helpers of drivers once and learnt driving from their 'ustads' ('bosses'). They did not have formal education nor any training about the road signs.
To these drivers, appearing in the driving test means a hassle including paying the brokers and no income for the days spent at the BRTA. Licenses were collected and renewed according to the list provided by Shajahan Khan's Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation after 1990. After a court bar, this was stopped too.
The procedure for receiving driving license for heavy vehicles should be made easier, general secretary the workers' federation, Osman Ali, said adding, "The drivers are harassed as they go to the BRTA and this is the reason for the number of licenses being less than vehicles."
"Many do not renew their licenses for years," he said. "Police detain them on roads, file cases and very often extort money from them. Road crashes will not decrease unless the system is changed," he observed.
The drivers do not abide by the regulation of not driving more than eight hours per day. Though drivers of a few companies are allowed breaks, but many use the opportunity to drive other company's vehicles, according to several owners and drivers of the heavy vehicles. Also, the owners are reportedly compelled to hire the illegal drivers for the driver-crisis while many seek the light vehicle drivers too for saving money.
Khandakar Enayet Ullah, the general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said, "A huge number of costly buses are plying across the country. The driver commit mistakes because of the crisis of drivers, -- they leave one job and start job another in quick succession."
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina issued directives to build restrooms for the long-route drivers along the highways in a cabinet meeting held in March last year. Following this, the roads and highways department undertook a project to build a number of restrooms.
According to an estimate by the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh Engineering University (BUET) on 2016, 53 per cent road accidents are caused by speeding vehicles and 37 per cent are caused by reckless driving. This means drivers are responsible in 90 per cent of the cases. The institute used police records since 1999. Another estimate by the passenger welfare platform, Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, said buses, trucks and covered vans were involved in 48 per cent road accidents during 2018.
Transport expert Shamshul Haque said, "The heavy vehicles run for 24 hours and number of drivers for such vehicles should have been 2.5 times more. There’s no formal training for drivers here, they work without any breaks, and sometimes, the owners fix the target for them. All the elements required to turn a driver reckless are there."
"BRTA issues licenses and registration for the drivers, but does it ever speculate who will drive the vehicles when the number of drivers is less than required? The liabilities of the road accidents lie with the BRTA too," he further said.