We are quite underwhelmed by the lacklustre start of the much-awaited new transport act. According to a report by The Daily Star, the Road Transport Act, 2018—which came into effect on November 1, more than a year after it was passed in parliament replacing the Motor Vehicle Ordinance, 1983—has had little impact on its first day thanks to a lack of preparation by the authorities. Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and the police were found wanting in basic arrangements. New on-the-spot fines for violations could not be imposed due to the absence of relevant documents. BRTA and district administrations could not operate mobile courts as the schedule of the Mobile Court Act, 2009 was not updated to incorporate the provisions of the act. Overall, there were no visible signs that a new law is now in force. This lacklustre display by the implementing agencies as well as those responsible for laying the necessary groundwork for the new act doesn’t bode well for the future.
The new transport act, although not as stringent as the passenger welfare activists have expected, fulfils a demand by the student protesters of last year’s road safety movement. It provides harsher punishment, including hefty fines, for traffic rules violations. But experts have pointed out the maximum sentence fixed for those causing accidents by reckless and negligent driving which, they said, is not strict enough. They blamed it on external pressure from the transport owners and workers. Be that as it may, a new law is still welcome but it will be only as effective as it is implemented. Without ensuring the basic condition required for any law to be effective—an implementation mechanism governed exclusively by transparency and accountability—expecting a significant change to the chaotic state of our road transport will be unrealistic. The government, therefore, must remove the barriers, including corruption and negligence by the officials, to implementing the law in its entirety. It must enforce it strictly, without discretion, and establish order on our increasingly fatal roads.