Road safety performance is not just poor; it is deteriorating gradually in Bangladesh. According to WHO data, annual road crash deaths per capita in Bangladesh are twice the average rate for high-income countries and five times that of the best-performing countries in the world. The per capita fatality rate in Bangladesh has increased more rapidly over the past three decades than the regional average. About 85% of all causative factors for road accidents involve the driver, 10% involve the highway and 5% involve the vehicle. The contributing factors to road traffic accidents in Bangladesh are road environment, vehicles and road users. The direct cause of the accident appears to be a clear failure in one of the three components: road, vehicle and human.
A UN report on the road safety situation of Bangladesh mentions the country has one of the highest fatality rates in road accidents with over 50 fatalities per 10,000 on-road motor vehicles. Vulnerable road users – pedestrians, children, bicyclists, cycle rickshaw occupants and pullers – are the worst affected victims and they account for 80 percent of road traffic accident fatalities.
Declaration includes road safety and a safe system approach as an integral element of land use, street design, transport system planning and governance, especially for vulnerable road users and in urban areas, by strengthening institutional capacity with regard to road safety laws and law enforcement, vehicle safety, infrastructure improvements, public transport, post-crash care, and data. Focus on speed management, including the strengthening of law enforcement to prevent speeding and mandate a maximum road travel speed of 30 km/h in areas where vulnerable road users and vehicles mix in a frequent and planned manner, except where strong evidence exists that higher speeds are safe, noting that efforts to reduce speed, in general, will have a beneficial impact on air quality and climate change as well as being vital to reducing road traffic deaths and injuries.
UN General Assembly Resolution 74/299 declared a “decade of action for road safety 2021-2030” with the target to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by at least 50% during the target period. This global plan calls upon governments and partners to implement a Safe System Approach. The Road Transport Act 2018 (RTA) was passed repealing the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983 with a view to reducing road crash fatalities and achieving SDGs.
Road safety issues include safe infrastructure for the movement of pedestrians and vehicles. That is why road safety engineering is so important. If roads are not properly designed, constructed addressing safety standards and regularly maintained, safety on road is compromised. Likewise, footpaths, zebra crossing marks, installation of traffic signs and signals and keeping them operational are also critical for safe road use. Frequent crossing/right turning options, discriminatory manual traffic signal management and chaotic intersections create mismanagement and traffic congestion. Road safety engineering includes lane separation at grade level for smooth movement of multimodal transports on the road.
Road users are sometimes unaware of rules and also unwilling to comply with safety rules. Bus drivers pick and drop off passengers in the middle of the road. On the other hand, ignoring safety concerns passengers tend to board a bus wherever he likes instead of from the designated bus stoppage. Road safety and traffic management are multi-stakeholders functions. That is why unless effective coordination is there, the expected result cannot be expected whatever good legislation or managerial tools be in place. The coordination gap among the multiple agencies (Police, BRTA and Road owners) is clearly visible. BRTA is the regulator but enforcement in the street is on the Police while road engineering is the onus of road owners.
Road Transport Act-2018 (RTA 2018) provides that drivers and passengers wear helmets properly but what is proper is not mentioned clearly. Nothing is mentioned in the existing rules. The act directs that helmets shall have to be used properly. But what constitutes ‘proper’ is not mentioned in the act or rules. So, the absence of a helmet fastening provision is a serious gap. Another gap is the provision of e-bikes is not mentioned in the act or rules. It is expected that e-bike use will increase gradually. So, e-bikers should also be mandated to wear helmets. Passengers shall have to follow rules regarding seat belt fastening. But nothing has been laid down in the act and existing rules do not provide for anything regarding the standard of the seat belt or seat belt fastening rules and procedures.
Driving under influence of drink or narcotics has been barred under the RTA but a driver can be unfit otherwise also. He can be sick, tired due to overwork, and have short eyesight. These are also required to be addressed in the legislation. A sick driver should not be allowed to drive and there should be fixed working hours stress for driving. Annual physical checkups for every driver should be included. Traffic management is a cross-cutting issue. The agencies for the construction and maintenance of roads are primarily responsible for facilitating the safe movement of vehicles on the roads and the smooth management of traffic volume. Road construction agencies have to consider safety and management factors. If traffic management is not smooth, safety becomes compromised.
Road safety engineering issue is the primary issue for ensuring road safety. Whatever good traffic laws be there, if the road is not constructed and maintained considering the safety issue, safety cannot be ensured. The ultimate success rests in the enforcement of the law itself. If the enforcement is not efficient and professional, there will be no expected result in terms of road safety. The enforcement issue is also crosscutting. All the concerned agencies have to comply with safety regulations, otherwise safety will be compromised. We need to set speed limits for different road types immediately and enforce them. Need to establish a central coordination body for road safety engineering, traffic management and enforcement. Take a multimodal awareness-building program involving stakeholders including civil societies.
The writer is a researcher and columnist