POST TIME: 3 July, 2018 00:00 00 AM
The challenge of road safety
Neither people follow the automatic traffic signals light, nor the police are interested in using it
Ashfaquzzaman Chowdhury

The challenge of road safety

Every day new names are added to the list. The list is getting longer and longer. No one knows when the number of new insertion in this list will stop. The list we are talking about is not a typical list. It is the list of persons killed by road accidents everyday in Bangladesh. Nowadays, it might be difficult to find any national daily of a day which has not reported on any incident of a fatal road accident in its front page. However, decades ago, the phenomenon was that every year in some certain occasion (Eid vacation, long holidays etc.) the number of road accidents would increase. But unfortunately, this occasional phenomenon turned out to be an everyday matter. Fatal accidents are happening on a large scale daily.

In the last few years, it is apparent that countrywide the recurrence of road accident became very high. Concurrently, the casualties on those accidents are also significant in number. According to 2017’s annual statistical report on road accidents published by ‘Nirapad Sarak Chai’ (We Demand Safe Road), 5645 people died and 7908 people became injured in the country on total 3349 reported road accidents around the year. These numbers are quite alarming because it shows that every year nearly six thousand families are losing their family members in accidents and around eight thousand more other families are facing trouble with their members who became physically challenged due to road accidents. So it can undeniably be said that the road journey has become dreadfully unsafe in our  country.

In this scenario, one simple question revolves centering the road accident is that who or what is liable for it? The answer to this question, in our country’s context, is not straightforward. Many factors jointly share the liability of road accidents. Roads, vehicles, drivers, passengers, passersby, traffic system, corruption of related authorities and politics are responsible for these accidents on various degrees. The last reason may seem odd in this context. The rationale behind it will be provided in the later part of the article.

In Bangladesh, major fatal road accidents generally take place on highways. Expert engineers are not willing to consider our inter-city road connectivity as highways. They say that the roads we call highway in our country are not consistent with the definition of highways. Because, highways should be as straight as possible, the width of the ways would be standard, only high-speed heavy vehicles will use these roads, the roads would be fenced in both sides so that no unwanted animals or objects could enter on the road and there must not be any small connecting roads with these roads. Unfortunately, we do not see any of these conditions fulfilled in our so-called highways. The vehicles we permit to carry passengers and goods are mostly of low quality and standards. The body manufactured in Bangladesh does not follow the safety rules and guidelines. Besides, sometimes buses and trucks unfit for use are dented, painted and reintroduced in carrying passengers and products. On the other hand, drivers of our country do not receive sufficient education, knowledge, and skill to drive. They mostly drive vehicles without a license or obtained such license illegally. They drive carelessly and tend to overtake at any cost. They do not have minimum knowledge of essential signs and signals to drive on roads. The passengers of highways are somewhat under hostage by the transport companies. They have no option but to ride for the risky journey. However, the passengers of local bus services in Dhaka city might be, in some situation, partially responsible for accidents, because they should have given priority to their life than the time and travel. Passersby of Dhaka city is often spotted crossing the road unsafely even if there is an overbridge or underpasses nearby. The risky crossing of roads in this way is also one of the common reasons for road accidents.

Traffic system in Dhaka city and around the country is manual. Though the government has spent a lot of money on it, it appears to be a failed attempt at every time. Neither people follow the automatic traffic signals light, nor the police are interested in using it. Now let's see the political reason for road accidents. In our country transport systems are mostly privatized, and the privatization goes to that level that the government cannot take any decision appropriate to ensure road safety strictly. It cannot enact strict laws and prosecute the responsible driver for road crashes. The control of this sector is in the hand of a couple of persons who are either owners of these transport companies or leaders of the transport owners and workers. These persons have close contact with the ruling party or have occupied a responsible position in the government. In their shelter, the workers of this sectors became unaccountable and untouchable by the law and law enforcers. Only for some transport companies monetary benefit till now the people of Dhaka city have to ride unuseable, unfit and unsafe buses. Their political affiliation leads the government to overlook their unlawful, irresponsive, illogical and anti-public attitude. Some social organizations and NGOs have expressed their concern on the issue of the high number of road accident. These organizations are also working in awareness building and other social measures to reduce road accidents. However, whenever they have emphasized on the issue of legal driving license and drivers’ skill and knowledge of driving, some political leaders stand on the side of illegality. They advocated on behalf of the unlicensed drivers, unfit vehicles on the roads and non-prosecution of the killer drivers. It is unacceptable and shocking for the people of a country where such high rate of fatal accidents occurs daily.

The writer is a lawyer