The roads and highways of Bangladesh are unsafe to the extreme. Around 64 people die in road accidents every day and losses incurred total around Tk 340 billion annually. There are technical reasons as well as corruption in political and administrative sectors which are responsible for this state of affairs. Our roads have turned into death traps. The causes behind the situation must be determined and steps taken to being an end to this predicament.
- Organised crime -
Organised crime has taken over control of the transport sector and this is the main problem of our communication system. This mafia obstructs implementation of the laws and bringing the offenders to book.
According to a Prothom Alo report (2 August 2018), the transport sector is under control of certain ministers, lawmakers and their relatives. ‘With the shelter of powerful quarters, the drivers become reckless.’ It is also reported: ‘Traffic rules cannot be applied to the roads as like politicians, a section of officers and members of the law enforcement agencies are involved in the transport business.’
Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation is backed by shipping minister Shajahan Khan and so unqualified drivers are easily employed.
The authorities are bound to issue licences to anybody recommended by the federation. And this is supposed to be a digital system!
According to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), around 190,000 licences have been issued as per recommendations of the shipping minister’s organisation, Bangladesh Road Transport Federation since 1992.
In 2011-12, thousands of licences were given to the drivers without any examination following papers signed by Shajahan Khan.
- Laws give in to corruption -
BRTA issues licences after a rather meaningless test. Such licences can still be availed in exchange of bribes. BRTA’s vehicle fitness scrutiny is also shoddy. Then there are matters tucked behind the scenes:
1. Widespread extortion takes place from every passenger bus and goods vehicle. As a result, drivers carry excess goods and passengers on unsafe roads. According to an investigative report of 27 July 2013, unlawful toll of Tk 22,000 is collected from each 10 tonnes truck to travel 439 kilometres from one corner of the country to another. In five years of time, the amount is supposed to increase. And this is the source of the shipping minister’s power. He has become a very important person to the government as he has established a control over the transport sector by keeping this massive labour force hostage.
2. Due to unbridled corruption, wide lanes, turns in the road and the road surfaces are not constructed in accordance with the specifications. The turning point of road is not constructed scientifically and there inadequate road signals. The quality of construction materials, including the bitumen and bricks is very low. As a result, the road is soon riddled with ruts and potholes. There are no separate lanes to enter and exit the highways. There are no service lanes, no bus and truck stands along the roads. There are no separate lanes for slow speed vehicles.
3. The capacity of road is not taken into the consideration during the construction of road. A road with a capacity of 5 tonnes is constructed with low quality bricks and sand. But a TATA truck carries 15 tonnes of goods. The truck drivers and owners carry 12-15 tonnes of goods to make up their loss, but they pretend to carry only five tonnes. They have to incur losses due to traffic jams and extortion on the bridges. This is not the only problem of owners and drivers.
As the road is not built considering the weight of the vehicles, earth under the pitch moves away due to overloaded vehicles. Potholes develop on the surface of the road and they become death traps.
- Drivers are unskilled -
Drivers are issued licences without any standard online or offline course curricular or driving guidelines and the quality of the exam system is poor. After working as helpers, uneducated and unemployed youths learn driving. But they do not learn the rules of the road. So the drivers without any formal training drive, taking risks on the poor quality road. Drivers are also forced to make extra trips in the stipulated time to make for losses incurred by traffic jams and extortion.
Exhausted and sleepless drivers have to drive unfit vehicles on the unsafe roads to reach their destination. The transport workers have to face scorching heat, long traffic jams and abusive language from the vehicle owners. The drivers are addicted to drugs and yaba pills too.
Road Accident Research Institute (RARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), in a study said 53 per cent road accidents take place due to excess speeding, 37 per cent for recklessness of drivers. The road accidents alarmingly increase in the capital, killing and injuring people every day. In a city with huge traffic jams and vehicles where vehicles move in a speed of only seven kilometres per hour, such accidents should not take place. Unsafe roads and death of many people are the result of anarchy in the transport sector.
*Faiz Ahmad Taiyeb is a sustainable development activist, engineer, solution architect, Vodafone the Netherlands. This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam