Road accidents, nothing less than murder

Mushfique Wadud | Update:

Despite plenty talk of action, road accidents are on a steady rise in Bangladesh over the years. Should we call these road accidents? What are these other than murderous acts?

This question comes to our mind because, when we carefully read the report of any road accident, it is commonly found that most of these accidents are preventable and occur simply due to negligence of the authorities concerned.

Many of these accidents would not have occured, had proper safety measures been taken. It sometimes seems that our policymakers are letting the people die by failing to take any effective measures. Their insincerity for making roads safe or, in other words, negligence of road safety, is extremely costly for the families that have faced any accident.

There is no effective measure to curb road accidents in Bangladesh, Mozammel Haque Chowdhury, the secretary of Bangladesh Passengers’ Welfare Association, said while speaking to Prothom Alo. “Especially, there are no visible activities on the highways to check road accidents. Sometimes law enforcers stop vehicles only to check if they carry drugs but there is no patrolling to check whether the vehicles have uncontrolled movement or not.”

Reckless driving, which causes 90 per cent of the road accidents, claimed 10 lives and injured 26 others when a bus collided with a container in Sonargoan, Narayanganj, on 26 February.

This was one of those accidents that were preventable, the newspaper report suggests. The following day, a Prothom Alo story said that the vehicle was running at over 100 km per hour and that the bus was not fit to ply. The driver was speaking on the mobile phone while driving.

When our policymakers are busy delivering rhetoric on development, casualties continue on the highways. At least 3,190 people were killed in the past 374 days, showed another Prothom Alo report published the same day. It added the number of road accidents had increased over the past couple of years. The Passenger’s Welfare Association found that the year 2017 witnessed a 22 per cent rise in road accidents.

Are these figures still not alarming?

Untrained and unskilled drivers and reckless driving are mainly responsible for the road accidents, findings that do not require much research. Some 1.5 million vehicles are being run by drivers who do not have licenses. There are only 1.8 million licensed drivers for 3.3 million vehicles registered with the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority.

And around 200,000 drivers have been issued licences as per demand from the transport trade union leaders who have their allegiance to shipping minister Shahjahan Khan. These drivers may not have adequate qualifications to pass the driving test but have been given the licences as directed by the pressure group. There is no doubt that these unskilled and untrained drivers are making the roads death traps.

Statistics, too, prove many of the road accidents are avoidable. In a report, the Accident Research Institute at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) said that in 90 per cent of the cases, reckless driving is responsible for road accidents. That simply means an effective drive against reckless driving may prevent 90 per cent of the road accidents.

As we understand, drivers run their vehicles recklessly mainly for two reasons. First, they do not have to face stern punishment when their reckless driving results in loss of lives. They are detained but released after some time. We often see agitation by transport trade union organisations when a driver is nabbed and brought to justice.

A serious lack of any effective compensation scheme for the victims is the other major reason of increasing road accidents. Under the current culture, vehicle owners do not have to pay compensation to the victims. So, drivers do not have to worry about what would happen if they are proven to be the cause of killing people on the roads. Many experts believe a compensation system for road accident victims can check reckless driving and road accidents.

Unfortunately, reckless drivers are considered more skilled in Bangladesh. We even heard from some transport workers that reckless drivers get more pay than other drivers.

If willing to bring any change in the trends, the policymakers must be very strict to make roads safe. In so doing, they just cannot listen to any undue demands from trade union or any other pressure group. Safety of citizens is more important than anything else in the transport sector.

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