Amid perennial shortfall, chaos and indiscipline in the country’s public transport sector, motorbikes brought a breath of fresh air to ordinary citizens. The easy affordable motorised two-wheelers have not only made life easier for the rural people by cutting time and distances among places, but it has also given a new lease of life to the commuters in urban areas, especially in Dhaka, where gridlock is a common phenomenon. As city streets are backed up during rush hours, bikes take people to their destinations faster, weaving through the congested traffic, not to mention the freedom of movement it provides to the bikers. For these reasons, it has caught on with office-goers. As a result, motorcycles are now in great demand.
We know aside from the Covid fallout that left many people without work, a large pool of young people in the country fail to land a job in formal employment every year. This has prompted people of different ages, including the youth, increasingly joining in motorcycle ride-sharing services through mobile apps. In the process, many of them, particularly from rural areas, are flocking to the capital or other cities and taking up motorbike driving as a means to make ends meet. While the contributions of two-wheelers are undeniable when it comes to saving time, providing freedom and having a role in the gig economy, the fact that they are a major factor in accidents on the roads can hardly be overlooked.
Another research carried out by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) under the aegis of the World Bank and ended last year says, against every 10,000 motorcycles in the country, 28 persons are dying in accidents each year. Almost 40 per cent of them are aged between 24 and 30 years. This death rate in motorcycle crashes is the highest in the world whereas Bangladesh ranks last, with only seven motorcycles for every 1,000 persons, in relation to per capita motorcycle users.
Pointing out the frequency of motorcycle accidents, the director of the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of BUET opines that there is a direct link between the number of motorcycles and road accidents. To put it another way, the increase in the number of bikes is proportionate to that of road crashes. The RSF statistics – the highest number of deaths and accidents occurred in 2019, when the highest number of bikes, 4.01 lakh, got registered – adds weight to the ARI director’s comments on the relation between the number of motorcycles and traffic accidents.
Despite concerns about the unchecked growth and associated risks of motorcycles being palpable, the number is on the rise. Experts refer to the government's ‘generous policy’ regarding bike registration as a major reason behind it because the BRTA halved the registration fee last year. Producing motorcycles locally and their availability on various e-commerce platforms either at cheaper prices or in instalments are also playing a role in the uptrend. Moreover, the rolling out of ride-sharing apps in 2016 was another reason for the upward spiral.
The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) data shows since liberation some 50.13 lakh vehicles have been registered with it until last year. Of those, 35 lakh were motorcycles. On the other hand, the transport regulatory authority has issued licenses to 21.28 lakh motorcycles so far, indicating 13.72 lakh or 39.21 per cent of bikers do not have licenses. A total of 3.75 lakh bikes got registered with BRTA last year, one lakh of those in Dhaka alone. In other words, 1,028 bikes hit the roads every day across the country and 274 in Dhaka. The figures speak volumes about the burgeoning growth of motorcycles in the country.
A number of reasons are to blame for motorbike crashes. First and foremost is the road traffic rules flouted by the riders. A recent survey unveils that on an average, a biker in Dhaka city changes lanes six times a minute and violates rules. Defying laws motorcyclists often ride on footpaths causing accidents. The second one is the inaptitude of untrained and unlicensed drivers. A large portion of bikers are young, who are involved in unholy competitions and sped up while driving in an attempt to overtake others putting themselves and pillion riders' lives at risk. The third is the poor infrastructure and absence of dedicated lanes for motorbikes. The fourth is the nonexistence of rules and regulations as to what type of vehicles and how many can ply the roads. This creates chaos on the road and accidents occur. In addition, putting on sub-standard helmets and a lack of oversight on part of authorities are significant contributing factors in high casualties in bike crashes.
Quality helmets could work wonders in reducing bike fatalities as WHO said in a recent report that a quality helmet can cut deaths by 50 per cent and injuries by 70 per cent in the event of motorcycle accidents.
The BRTA should double down on conducting mobile courts against errant riders and holding awareness campaigns like clockwork. Different ride-sharing companies could play their part by giving training to their bikers. Most importantly, setting up dedicated lanes for motorcycles wherever possible, bringing in a specific law with a view to dictate types and numbers of vehicles to be run on the roads and constantly keeping a close tab on bikers can turn the tide against motorbike accidents.
(The writer is a columnist and IT professional working for Thakral Information Systems Pvt. Ltd. Email: [email protected])
Source: Sun Editorial