Bangladesh's roads continue to be death traps. There have been no fundamental changes in the road management system. The movement for safe roads and the political commitment for change are all lost in oblivion.
The problems in the mass transport system and the way forward have all been identified. And yet there is no improvement in the situation. On the contrary, things have slid from bad to worse.
Untrained drivers and dilapidated vehicles are both on the rise. It is alarming that the roads quite openly run rife with these untrained drivers and unfit cars. Three decades ago when BRTA was formed, there were more drivers than cars. Now things have reversed. There are around 1.8 million drivers less than vehicles. And if the appropriate work hours of a driver are taken into consideration, then the crisis of skilled drivers will be even more glaringly obvious. It is imperative to immediately start up an adequate number of training academies for drivers in the country.
Competent inspectors are also required along with the fitness tests. There is a crisis in this sector too. There are around 500,000 vehicles with no fitness. Of these, one fifth of the vehicles are buses and trucks, half of which are responsible for the accidents. The road transport act was passed in 2018, but the law remains on paper. The people-friendly clauses of the law are particularly ignored. There is a lack of political commitment.
In just a matter of one year, BRTA provides the government with a revenue of over Tk 30 billion (Tk 3000 crore). Yet investment in this establishment for road management is not proportionate to this. One inspector is assigned to oversee 41,000 vehicles and 25,000 drivers. This is the paucity of the government's investment in the sector.
Over the past five years, 37,000 people have been killed in road accidents and no one of them is given compensation. The families of persons killed in 10 separate road accidents have not received the Tk 100 million (Tk 10 crore) which the High Court ordered to be paid to them. In the meantime, the death toll grows.
When the only breadwinner of a family is crippled in an accident, he becomes a burden. The state will not inquire after him. Yet the law states that a trustee board must provide him with compensation. In reality, no such trust board has even been formed. The state machinery pretends that everything is fine. But that is not so. The continued deaths on the roads cannot simply be written off as fate.
The continued road deaths will not abate unless a skilled force of transport workers is created and the overall road management system is updated. On Safe Roads Day, a spokesperson of BUET's road accident research institute quite aptly said that it does not need any research to realise that accidents will inevitably increase if the drivers are exhausted and the vehicles are faulty. A year ago, the minister for road transport and bridges has said, the Shahjahan Khan committee had come up with 111 recommendations to prevent road accidents. There have been many such committees and recommendations in the past, but all this remains in the files, gathering dust.
It seems that the matter of restoring order on the roads remains hostage to a certain group. Unless this situation is changed, one cannot expect safe roads. This requires the formulation and implementation of policies and planning based on political commitment from a high level.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has said that every driver needs to undergo dope tests. Her words should be heeded immediately because surveys show that most of the road accidents occur due to reckless driving. It is necessary to check whether a section of these drivers are under the influence of narcotics.