Road safety is major concern for most nations of the world including Bangladesh. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently estimated that approximately 1.35 million people worldwide die in road crashes each year and nearly 3,287 every day. Moreover, road traffic disaster is ranked as the 8th most important reason of deaths and account for 2.2 per cent of all demises globally.
With a population of over 168 million, government of Bangladesh has been struggling to cope with colossal road accidents for decades. Drivers are responsible for most of the fatal road accidents. According to ‘Nirapad Sarak Chai’ (NSC-We Demand Safe Roads), a total of 4,289 people were killed in road traffic accidents in 2021. However, according to WHO’s estimate, the road death toll in Bangladesh might be about 20,000 yearly. This is a staggering figure. Undoubtedly, the comprehensive social and economic costs of road accidents are colossal.
Infuriated by a speedy bus accident, operated by an unlicensed driver that killed two college students in Dhaka in July 2018, tens of thousands of school and college students staged nation-wide unprecedented protests and demonstrations in the streets for a week. The students called for stringent traffic laws and additional road safety measures.
The student’s protests eventually forced the government to pass the Road Transport Act (RTA) on October 2018. The Act which became effective from November 2019 is intended to deliver road transport security by punishing the law breakers. The Act stipulates two sections i.e., S 98 and S105, relating to transport workers’ liabilities for loss of third party’s life or property. The offender shall be punishable with detention for a maximum of three years, or with penalties not more than three lac taka or with both, and the court may order the whole or part of the fines to be compensated to the victim.
But critics point out that the provisions of the RTA 2018 involving the legal responsibility for deaths remain flawed in quite a few respects along with enforcement weaknesses.
The number of traffic accidents and death toll in Bangladesh are on the rise despite the recently passed legislations. The Daily Sun in a news report on December 5, 2022 revealed that there were at least 554 reported deaths and as many as 747 people were injured in 463 road accidents across Bangladesh in November alone. However, in the month of October, 482 persons were killed in road accidents. Evidently, the figures demonstrate that number of people killed in road accidents is increasing day by day.
The full report was prepared and analysed by Bangladesh Road Safety Foundation (RSF) on the basis of news reports of traffic accidents in 9 national dailies, 7 online news portals and television networks of the country. Of the total death toll, 229 or 41.33 per cent were motorbike riders, 123 people or 22.2 per cent were pedestrians and 79 people or 14.25 per cent were transport employees – drivers and other support workers.
Thus, a road traffic mishap could have more than one contributing factor. Road accidents generally involve multiple variables like time, over speeding, hazardous roads, weather conditions, driver’s lack of attention, poor turn, loss of control, poor vehicle conditions, the age of driver etc. However, car accident-related deaths can be considerably reduced by use of seat belts.
Most studies on traffic accidents found that reckless driving is the single leading contributor to deaths and injury. To reduce the risk of a crash, drivers should always stay under the speed limit, besides drive to the conditions, such as slowing down in wet conditions or poor visibility.
Bangladesh is relying on drivers to drive more safely constantly keeping an eye on traffic laws and regulations. While the number of automobiles has been increasing disproportionately day after day, the existing roads are not well maintained on time accordingly.
To produce positive road safety outcomes, strong management and supervision in all aspects of road safety is crucial. One of the most fruitful measures to curb accidents is – ‘zero tolerance enforcement’. But, the issue of road safety and enforcement of laws are quite challenging in Bangladesh. The government should address rampant corruption involved in vehicle certification process and licensing of drivers. Sadly also, values of complying with traffic rules as driver’s own responsibility is yet to develop in the country.
In conclusion, raising public awareness, stringent enforcement of current traffic laws, better maintained roads, apt training of drivers and rigorous licensing and speedy court actions against the offenders are essential to reduce the number of road death toll in the country.
The writer is a former Professor and Chairman at the Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka