Walking on Dhaka streets is no easy task.
Let’s say overcoming all the odds -- vendors, parked vehicles, waterlogged potholes, development works and vehicles stopping as per whims -- you are braving towards your destination.
But suddenly you hear a loud noise or siren, involuntarily causing you either to jump or cringe. Initially, you may think it’s an ambulance or a vehicle belonging to law enforcers on emergency duty -- honking for people to step aside.
That apprehension soon turns to annoyance as the vehicle making a raucous belongs to some influential person being escorted by personal security guards. Worse yet, it could be a private car or motorbike using those hooters, in a breach of law.
The existing law only permits on-duty vehicles of police, fire service and patient-carrying ambulances to use special horns. Even a lawmaker or minister cannot use hooters in their vehicles.
The reality, however, is different.
Hundreds of vehicles and many motorcycles are using hooters in the city.
Installing these horns is not that expensive either. They are either being imported as other electronic devices or improvised locally.
“In most cases, influential people, vehicles of different ministries and government offices, political leaders, businessmen and well-known national and international organisations are using hooters,” said a traffic sergeant of Dhaka (south division).
“Taking any action against them if difficult,” the official told this newspaper recently on condition of anonymity.
The traffic official said usually they take action against buses and trucks using hydraulic horns.
On an average, police filed 2,200 cases per month last year for using such horns. Around 3,000 case have been filed every month this year till August, according to DMP statistics.
According to Prof Mohammad Abdullah, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, sudden exposure to loud sound -- measuring above 90 decibels -- or continuous exposure to excessive noise can cause nerve damage in ears.
“Hooters and hydraulic horns create sound measuring over 100 decibels,” said the expert, who recently retired as a professor.
Exposure to noise over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss, according to US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Despite the risks, vehicles with such lethal sirens do not seem to care. Drivers continue to honk as loud as ever their way through even in city thoroughfares, near educational institutions and hospitals -- where it is strictly prohibited, said many annoyed residents.
“It’s really disturbing, but apparently no one is there to look into this nuisance,” said Saifur Rahman, a private service holder in Gulshan, recently.
Saifur said a few months back he was passing through Banani on a motorcycle. “Out of the blue, there were loud noises all around. A person through a loudspeaker was asking me to step aside,” he said.
“It caused me to brake hard, which could’ve resulted in an accident. When I looked back, I saw an SUV escorted by a motorcade whizzing past me. The security guard with the loudspeaker shouted angrily why I didn’t move away sooner,” he added.
Use of such horns is against the Environment Conservation Rules 1997, said noted environmentalist Abdul Matin.
The executive vice president of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon said the standard sound level is 50 decibels in residential areas at daytime and 40 decibels at night, and for both residential and commercial purposes the standard is 60 decibels.
He said use of hydraulic horns could not be stopped mainly for two reasons -- poor implementation of law and lack of awareness on the ban.
Contacted, Mahbub-E-Rabbani, director (road safety) of BRTA, said except for ambulances, fire service vehicles and vehicles of on-duty police, using hooters or hydraulic horns is illegal and a punishable offence.
“We occasionally initiate mobile court drives and take legal actions against it,” he told The Daily Star.
Another BRTA official, seeking anonymity, said since police have sufficient manpower, they should take steps to prevent use of such horns.
Asked, Mofiz Uddin Ahmed, additional commissioner (traffic) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said they often carry out drives against vehicles fitted with hooters and hydraulic horns. “We also seize those every month,” he added.
“Apart from enforcing law, people need to be aware as well. No one should use anything that may harm others,” the additional commissioner stressed.