Amendment of road transport act will increase risk of accidents

Prothom Alo illustration

The cabinet on Wednesday approved the draft of Road Transport (Amendment) Act, 2024 bringing changes in at least 12 sections of the existing act. The draft act reduces penalties in different sections and converts two non-bailable sections into bailable ones.  

Sections 84, 98, and 105 were non-bailable in the existing law. The amendments make all sections bailable except Section 105. Section 98 deals with the penalty for loss of lives and properties due to overloading and reckless driving. The owners of vehicles are now asked to come under insurance.

It can be noted that vehicle owners and transport worker associations have been protesting against the act since it was passed in 2018 in the wake of the student movement. They even observed strikes to prevent passing of the law. Some of them who led the strikes were even the members of the cabinet. None can take a stance against the law passed by the government despite being minister of the government. If anyone wants to do it, they must resign first.

In the face of protests by transport owners and workers, the government formed a committee in 2019 comprising home minister Asaduzzaman Khan, law minister Anisul Huq and former railways minister Nurul Islam to amend the Act. Leaders of transport owner and worker associations demanded amendment to 29 sections of the law to the committee. Among them were 105, 84 and 98 sections. Sections 84, 98 and 105 of the Road Transport Act are the strictest and are non-bailable offences. Now, sections 84 and 98 have been made bailable in the proposed Act.

Enacting law in the face of student protest while thwarting the same due to pressure from workers and owners on the other hand, is nothing but self-contradictory.  This is why the law remained almost ineffective for five and half years. However, the Digital Security Act which was enacted almost concurrently was passed defying the objections from stakeholders.  

By amending the act, the government itself backtracked from its earlier stance. The act was not against owners or workers, but it aimed to curb road accidents. But the transport sector owners and workers saw it as a ‘weapon’ against them.

When various organisations including the Road Safety Coalition have been demanding a new law for road safety, the rationale for amending the Road Transport Act enacted in 2018 will be questioned. We think the thousands of people who die every year in road accidents is not only a loss to those families; it is rather a big loss to the state also. It is also true that accidents cannot be prevented just by enacting laws or by punishing someone. To stop road accidents, overall development of road management is necessary. In this case, the authorities are more responsible than the transport owners and workers. Accidents will be reduced to a significant extent if vehicles are stopped from hitting the road without a valid permit.

Government’s willingness and efficiency to implement laws is more important than dabbling with laws. If owners and workers consider the relaxation of road transport laws as their victory, the risk of chaos and accidents on the road will only increase. None wants such a situation. Everyone concerned should consider that establishing order on road or preventing accidents will ensure protection of not only passengers but also the owners and workers.