Giving in to the pressure from transport associations, the government is going to bring about a drastic change in the Road Transport Act-2018, reducing fines stipulated under 11 sections and sentences under four sections.
It is going to make two more sections -- related to overloading and medications of vehicles -- bailable offences, according to the draft amendment of the act.
However, the law, if amended as per the draft, will lose its jurisdiction to hold a driver responsible for causing injuries by reckless and negligent driving. In that case, it will only be applicable when a victim dies in an accident.
Minimum educational qualifications required to obtain driving licences will also be changed. Drivers, who will operate registered three-wheelers, will get licences if he or she has a class-five certificate, instead of class eight, says the draft.
Educational qualifications to obtain licences for driving other vehicles will remain unchanged.
However, all these qualifications won't be required if a conductor or supervisor with licences can gather skills as a driver by working for 10 years in vehicles; and can pass the driving competency board, according to the draft.
It also says at least 29 sections, out 126, of the act will be amended and the changes will be made considering at least eight things, including the definition of heavy or medium vehicles.
Upon preparing the draft, the road transport and bridges ministry uploaded it on its official website, seeking public opinion. The draft was also sent to 15 to 16 ministries concerned for their opinions.
"Upon receiving their opinions, we will compile and incorporate, if necessary," Yousub Ali Mollah, additional secretary (estate wing), told The Daily Star yesterday.
There are several steps to be followed before it is approved by the cabinet and subsequently by the parliament, he said.
Contacted, prominent road safety campaigner Ilias Kanchan said, "It [the proposed draft] is the reflection of their [transport leaders] demands.
"The law is going to be changed even before it is fully implemented. This is very unfortunate."
Ilias, also the chairman of Nirapad Sarak Chai movement, raised questions about the effectiveness of the law once it is amended as per the draft.
Terming transport leaders, led by a ruling party lawmaker, very powerful, he said, "The government is going to amend the law following the demands of the people who are mainly responsible for the anarchy of the transport sector."
However, Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers' Federation, refuted the allegations of putting pressure on the government to change the law.
"The government rather passed the law hastily being pressured by the student movement. Had the law been passed following further discussion, amendments may not have been required so quickly," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
He said they had placed a proposal for changing 34 sections of the act and had long discussions over it.
The country witnessed two major movements seeking road safety in last three years as thousands of people have been getting killed and maimed by the road crashes. The government, while passing the act, said the situation will change positively once the law comes into force.
ROAD TOWARDS AMENDMENT
The Jatiya Sangsad passed the Road Transport Act in September 2018 following a student movement for road safety. But the government did not put the law in effect until November 2019.
Immediately after the act was passed, transport workers called strike twice to demand changes in the law.
Against this backdrop, a three-minister committee, consisting of the ministers of law, home and railways law minister, was formed in February 17, 2019, to look into how the act can be implemented.
When the government took the initiative to enforce the law in November 2019, transport associations called strikes again demanding changes to several sections of the law.
Their main demands include making all offences under the law bailable and reduce the amounts of fines stipulated under different sections.
The government then decided not to put several sections of the act into effect.
It decided not to penalise those who drive large vehicles with licences meant for light or medium vehicles until June last year. The deadline for this was extended for another year.
In the meantime, the three-member committee held several meetings with the transport leaders and suggested several changes in the law, a member of the committee told The Daily Star last year.
Yousub Ali Mollah said the draft was prepared with the opinions of the three-minister committee and the proposal put forwarded by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority.
WHAT THE DRAFT AMENDMENT SAYS
As per the section 105 of the act, if anybody gets seriously injured or killed in a motor vehicle-related accident, it would be considered an offence under the relevant sections of the Penal Code 1860.
However, no matter what section 304B of the Penal Code contains, if anybody causes accident by reckless and negligent driving and kills or injures someone severely, they would face a maximum sentence of five years in jail or a fine of Tk 5 lakh or both, it said.
But the draft excluded "if anybody is injured severely" and proposed fining Tk 3 lakh instead. Meanwhile, the five-year jail term will remain.
The draft, however, added that the court can give orders to pay the fine -- fully or partially -- to the victim(s).
At the moment, sections 84, 98 and 105 are non-bailable sections. But, once amended, sections 84 and 98 would be bailable.
Section 84 deals with the punishment for illegally changing the technical specifications of a vehicle, while section 98 deals with the punishment for accidents due to overloads and reckless driving.
Moreover, section 98 would be "compoundable", as per the draft.
Illegal and unscientific modification of vehicles and overloading are considered major reasons for road accidents and mobile courts do not have the jurisdiction to check such offences. Overloading is also a major reason for damages to roads and bridges.
As per the draft, fines stipulated for at least 11 sections and sentences for four sections would be reduced.
For example, if anyone, as per the law, parks a vehicle, or picks up or drops passengers at undesignated places, he or she has to pay Tk 5,000 as fine and one of 12 points would be curtailed.
But, as per the amendment draft, punishment for the offence would be Tk 1,000 only.
Section 57 of the act talks about the formation of a fund for giving compensations to the road accident victims or their families.
Among others, fines collected under the act from errant drivers or vehicle owners was mentioned as the source of the fund. But this option was excluded in the amendment draft.
As a result, the authorities have to depend mainly on government funds or donations made by the transport organisations.
As per section 25 (2) of the act, if any employee provides fitness certificates of an unfit vehicle, the employee will face departmental action. But draft excluded it and said "faulty vehicles must not be given fitness certificates by any means".