After much delay and drama, the Road Transport Act-2018 finally came into force yesterday.
But enforcing the act with stricter punishment for traffic offences will be difficult for the authorities aiming to reduce deaths on roads and ensure traffic discipline. The issue involves myriad unresolved problems.
The authorities seem to have relied solely on this act without addressing the problems in road engineering, and traffic education.
Inadequate infrastructure, logistics, and shortage of human resources are still there. The government will have to negotiate with the transport associations that have already demanded repeal of several sections of the act, delaying the process of enforcing the law.
The associations, mostly led by people close to the ruling party, often stand in the way of implementation of government directives and court orders.
There are about 42.17 lakh registered vehicles in the country and the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority has issued around 23 lakh driving licences since its inception.
There are many drivers without licences. The government will have to bring those drivers to the licencing process immediately. Under the new law, drivers without licences will be sentenced to six months in prison or fined Tk 25,000 or both.
Owners of unregistered vehicles will be sentenced to six months in jail or fined Tk 50,000 or both.
Currently, there are an estimated 10-12 lakh unregistered battery-and engine-run threewheelers and other vehicles across the country. These vehicles are largely responsible for frequent crashes, experts say.
Questions remain as to how the authorities will get the unregistered vehicles registered or off the roads.
Then there are the “unfit” vehicles. Under the act, there is a six-month jail sentence or a fine of Tk 25,000 or both for driving unfit vehicles on roads.
Every year, the BRTA issues around 6 lakh annual fitness clearances to vehicles.
According to a BRTA report, about 4 lakh registered vehicles were on the road without fitness certificates last month.
But the BRTA has only 109 vehicle inspectors against a demand for around 1,000, officials said.
There is only one Vehicle Inspection Centre (VIC) at its office in the capital’s Mirpur. The VIC can check some elements of a vehicle digitally while the inspectors check many vehicles manually, which according to experts, can compromise safety.
Besides examining fitness, registering, and issuing licence, the BRTA has many other tasks. But it has only 708 employees against a sanctioned 823 posts.
Officials say even the number of sanctioned posts is too small to deal with ever increasing number of vehicles.
As per the act, no vehicle is allowed to park or load and offload goods or pick up and drop off passengers at any place not designated for the purposes.
Violators would be fined Tk 5,000.
However, only a handful of commercial buildings has parking spaces. For the buses, there are no designated parking space or terminal in the capital. Therefore, many vehicles remain parked on roads, causing congestion.
The new act applies to drivers, pedestrians, and all road users. Failing to obey the law may land the violator in jail for a month. They may also be fined Tk 10,000 or be imprisoned or both.
The traffic signalling system in Dhaka, however, is chaotic.
City authorities have tried different methods to control traffic chaos over the decades.
The manually controlled traffic lights had been turned automatic at the capital’s intersections. The system had been upgraded with electronic countdown timers and solar panels.
But very little had changed for the better.
Members of traffic police still control traffic with their arms and often use sticks or ropes to stop the rush of vehicles. But Dhaka Metropolitan Police has only 4,000 members, which according to officials, is way too inadequate.
The act will mainly be executed by police and mobile courts run by the BRTA and district administrations.
The BRTA has only nine executive magistrates against 13 posts. They are supposed to lead drives in Dhaka and Chattogram. Besides, the regulator often asks the district administration to have mobile court drives.
The law enforcers will not be able to impose the on-the-spot fines as their point of sale (PoS) machines had not been updated in line with the new law.
It may take at least two weeks for the law enforcers to prepare.
The highway police are also not equipped with modern technology and human resources.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader yesterday said, “I request everyone to obey the law.”
After attending a lecture on Road Safety and Road Transport Act-2018 at American International University Bangladesh, he told reporters, “The law was scheduled to be enforced on November 1, but I kept the law relaxed for two weeks in order to make people aware. The deadline ended on Thursday... .”
The government on October 22 announced that the law would be implemented from November 1.
“This act was enacted to discourage traffic violations,” he said.
He added that no serious punishment will be meted out at the initial stage.
“It is not like the act will be implemented right now as it is,” he said.
If any inconsistency is found while enforcing the law, amendments will be made, he said.
Meanwhile, transport workers in Jashore yesterday went on an indefinite strike demanding amendments to the law.
No bus or truck operated on 18 routes in Jashore, causing immense sufferings to the people.
Transport workers in Kushtia observed a strike on Friday and Saturday. A strike was enforced in Bogura on Saturday as well.
BRTA TO LAUNCH DRIVE TODAY
The BRTA would launch mobile courts today, said its chairman Kamrul Ahsan.
The home ministry yesterday issued a gazette incorporating the Road Transport Act-2018 into the schedule of the Mobile Court Act-2009, clearing the way for conducting mobile court operations, Kamrul told The Daily Star.
After the gazette, mobile courts run by district administration will also be able to enforce the Road Transport Act.