Mohammad Billal, in his late 20s, has been professionally driving minibuses and pick-up trucks for the last seven years in the capital and only recently he applied for a driving licence.
Billal is set to get a professional driving licence from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority on March 30.
He said over the years he had been fined at least 20 times for driving without a licence. He had never been jailed.
Billal's employment as a driver in the city's pathetic fleet of rundown public transport is a testament to the dearth of licensed professional drivers.
There exists a huge gap between the number of registered vehicles and the number of licensed drivers for those.
For driving over 29 lakh registered vehicles, there are only 19 lakh people with driving licences, say BRTA statistics as of February 2017.
On top of this, there are only 10 lakh drivers with professional licences and a little over nine lakh are non-professional drivers.
The BRTA does not keep track of vehicles being taken off the roads but sources there claimed that about 30 percent of the vehicles had been phased out.
The mismatch of vehicle-driver ratio gets even wider if one considers that commercially-operated buses and trucks require more than one driver for each vehicle.
It is no wonder that people with little skill behind the wheels and with fake or no license at all are at the driving seats and it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why roads of Bangladesh are so often smeared with blood.
Some 64 people die a day on the roads of the country, as found in a recent government-conducted survey.
On the other hand, the transport owners and workers said the actual number of vehicles on the roads is more than the BRTA data as Nosimon, Korimon, Easybikes and other improvised illegal vehicles are not registered with the BRTA.
All stakeholders agree that many vehicles are being driven by people who do not have any driving licence or have ones that are fake.
BRTA Director (enforcement) Nazmul Ahsan Mazumder said, “We do not know how many drivers have fake licences or how many don't have any. But we are strictly monitoring the issue though it is not possible to monitor the whole city only by four mobile courts.
“Yet, in the last month [February] alone our mobile courts jailed 60 drivers who did not have driving licences.”
Mazumder preferred putting the onus on vehicle owners who, according to him, care little about giving their vehicles to people with fake licenses or no licence at all.
“Owners sometimes prefer inexpensive drivers and compromise on the quality of drivers,” he said.
He said it was the responsibility of the owners of the vehicles to ensure that their vehicles were being driven by people with valid licences and the drivers are skilled and experienced.
Experts, however, noted road safety cannot be ensured until there was a proper licensing system in place.
Bus driver Jamir Hossain, involved in the 2011 crash that killed Tareque Masud and Ashfaque Munier Mishuk, had no driving licence.
Road-safety activist Ilyas Kanchan said the driving licence obtaining system was in total chaos. Many drivers do not have a driving licence and many obtained theirs without following proper procedure.
“If anyone tries to get a driving licence, the person has to go through written, viva and road tests. But most of the professional drivers are unwilling to sit the written and viva tests as many of them are illiterate. They obtain their licences through illegal means,” he said.
He said a vehicle in the hand of an unskilled driver or a driver without licence means all the passengers of that vehicle are at risk. “Even the driver is not safe.”
Regarding the BRTA claim that up to 30 percent of the registered vehicles might have been phased out, the actor-turned-road-safety campaigner said, “In Bangladesh, cars never die or expire.”
Khandaker Enayetullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Samity, said new vehicles were hitting the roads every day but not as many drivers were being trained.
"This actually creates an opportunity for fake driving licence or driving vehicles without any driving licence.”
He said the process of obtaining a professional heavy vehicle driving licence was difficult.
“Everyone should focus on getting trained and licensed drivers,” he said, adding that not many are seen getting trained for professional driving licences.
“If you go to the driving training schools, you will find people are mostly getting trained for light vehicles, especially cars."
He observed that usually the long-route vehicle drivers have genuine professional driving licences while many vehicles running in city routes are manned by people who do not possess driving licences.