With no institutional driving lessons or knowledge about traffic rules, underage drivers of public transport, mostly human haulers, are exposing city commuters to accident risks due to reckless driving habits.
Some young drivers would manage fake driving licences with the help of unscrupulous brokers at Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), while the others won't even bother about having any official document as the cops are indifferent.
Many vehicle owners and drivers said traffic police often take bribes from them in exchange for allowing the underage drivers at the wheel. Police even use the youths as drivers whey they requisition the human haulers.
“I only have to give Tk 200 to a traffic sergeant when I do anything wrong [violate traffic rules],” said driver Mobarak, who claimed to be 18. He has been driving human haulers on the Farmgate-New Market route for three years.
Some 50 human haulers are plying the route and about 25 drivers are under 18 years of age, added Mobarak.
Mohammad Shahin, 17, drives one on the Gulistan-Chandnighat route. He takes the wheel whenever police requisition his vehicle and so the cops do not harass him.
Human hauler owner Mohammad Hamza said when police requisition his vehicle, he sends his 12-year-old nephew Apu Chan to drive it.
Most of the young boys learnt driving from their ustads (senior drivers) while helping them operating the vehicles.
A 17-year-old driver on the Gulistan-Gendaria route, Mohammad Jahirul Islam said he learnt driving from another driver with whom he has been working for six years.
“I've managed a driving licence through my truck driver father,” mentioned Jahirul who makes around Tk 500-700 everyday from the trade.
Tanween Hasan, director at Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said learning to drive from seniors is a common practice in the country which leaves many unskilled drivers on the streets.
An underage driver is more likely to cause an accident than an adult, he pointed out. The Buet expert suggested strict enforcement of existing laws to reduce violation of traffic rules.
Mily Biswas, additional police commissioner (traffic) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said driving before the age of 18 is illegal in the country. The DMP files 2,200 to 2,500 cases daily against different kinds of vehicles for violating traffic rules. But at times, the cops cannot watch the traffic closely due to huge pressure of vehicles on the streets, she mentioned.
A total of 200 sergeant posts are now falling vacant against 700 posts in the DMP.
According to the ARI, there are at least 3,000 fatalities and as many grievous and simple injuries from around 3,500 police reported accidents on roads across the country every year. Other sources estimated the fatalities as high as from 12,000 to 20,000.
Thus the safety problem in Bangladesh is very severe by international standards with some 60 to 150 fatalities per 10,000 motor vehicles compared to around 25 fatalities in India, 16 in Sri Lanka, two in the USA and 1.4 in the UK.