A microbus falls into a ditch killing eight people in Fulpur, Mymensingh.
A microbus falls into a ditch killing eight people in Fulpur, Mymensingh. File photo

Almost two years have passed since prime minister Sheikh Hasina issued directives seeking long distance transport to have at least two drivers each and for restrooms to be built along highways, but none of this been implemented yet.

Roads had turned deadly before students took to the streets demanding safe roads in August 2018. Deaths were piling up with continuous road accidents. In this backdrop, the prime minister had issued five directives at a cabinet meeting on 25 June 2018.

Several meetings led by the prime minister’s principal secretary at the time, Nazibur Rahman, were held after the country went into a deadlock following safe road movement. Some 33 directives came from the meetings that sought discipline on roads and curb of accidents.

The road transport and bridges ministry, local government ministry, city corporation and police were supposed to implement most of the directives, but they still remain on paper.

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Many student protesters still face cases following the safe road movement. Protesters along with journalists were beaten up during the protests. Following this, the government hurriedly enacted the Road Transport Act, but stalled implementation facing opposition from transport sector leaders.

The directives issued by the prime minister on 25 June 2018 include—long distance transport must have back-up drivers, so that a driver does not have to drive more than five hours at a stretch, restrooms or service centres are to be built at specific distances, training is to be provided to drivers and their assistants and pedestrians must use zebra crossing instead of jaywalking. Finally, drivers and passengers must use seat belts.

According to the road transport and bridges ministry, there are 3.2 million drivers and 4.4 million vehicles in the country. Some 1.4 million vehicles are driven by unqualified drivers which means the regulatory agency has issued licences indiscriminately.

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There is shortage of skilled drivers, said Khondaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association. We cannot manage extra drivers despite trying, he said adding that big companies allow their drivers to rest for a day after driving for one day.

The Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET) studies road accidents. According to their study based on road accidents between 1998 and 2018, drivers are responsible for 90 per cent of the accidents for which it’s crucial to allow them to rest and to be trained.

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The directive to construct restrooms emerged from this observation. Upon the prime minister’s order, the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) undertook a Tk 2.26 billion project in August 2019 to build restrooms along four highways. The project was supposed to end on June, but has not started yet.

Among the 33 directives issued under Nazibur Rahman, a few were followed for a few days after they were announced, but that is now stalled.

The government has been earning billions from transport registration fees, taxes and fitness fees, said Moazzem Hossain, former director of ARI and professor of civil engineering at BUET. A portion of this could be spent to increase the number of drivers and to provide training, but the government offices do not show any interest in this

The government has been earning billions of taka from transport registration fees, taxes and fitness fees, said Moazzem Hossain, former director of ARI and professor of civil engineering at BUET. A portion of this could be spent to increase the number of drivers and to provide training, but the government offices do not show any interest in this, he added.