Road crash, then what?
Violation of rules by transport operators and drivers remains the main cause of fatalities and injuries on roads across the country.
People responsible for the accidents, especially the drivers, often get away scott free due to a poor government monitoring system and loopholes in the legal system, said road safety campaigners.
Take for example the road crash that took place in Narayanganj's Sonargaon upazila on February 26.
A bus driver was talking over phone and arguing with passengers as he was recklessly driving the vehicle on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway after hitting a rickshaw.
Within a short while, the Chittagong-bound bus from Dhaka hit a parked lorry after overtaking a microbus, killing 10 people and injuring at least 25, all bus passengers.
The body and chassis of the bus were widened changing the specifications provided by the manufacturer. Its fitness certificate and tax token had expired around three years ago.
A report of a probe committee commissioned by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) revealed the fact.
It is a glaring example why and how the accidents, around 3,000 every year, have been taking place in Bangladesh, claiming thousands of lives and dealing a blow to the economy (Tk 40,000 crore annually).
Causes of most the accidents are almost similar -- reckless driving, over-speeding, operating unfit vehicles and dangerous overtaking.
Analysing the police data on road accidents in around the last 15 years, the Buet's Accident Research Institute found that 47 percent accidents took place due to careless driving; 37 percent for over-speeding and 16 percent for other reasons.
According to a police report, 2,513 people were killed and 1,898 injured in 2,562 road accidents last year.
However, road safety campaigners and experts put the number higher because police count the deaths only when cases are filed.
According to Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, 7,397 people were killed and 16,193 injured in 4,979 road accidents last year.
Following an order of the Road Transport and Highways Division, a four-member probe committee, led by the BRTA director (road safety), was formed on April 27.
The committee visited the spot, talked to witnesses and passengers and came to know that the bus, MD Yasin (Dhaka Metro-Ba-14-0826), hit a rickshaw near Madanpur Chowrastha on the Dhaka-Chittagong highway and started driving recklessly.
Driver Shipon engaged into an altercation with some passengers as he was talking over phone while driving. He hit a parked lorry after overtaking a microbus in Tipurdi area. The fitness and tax documents of the lorry (Dhaka Metro-Ta-81-0279) had expired too.
After the accident, the driver managed to flee the scene. He has been on the run since then.
As per the registration certificate of the bus, its wheelbase (the distance between the centres of the front and rear wheels) was supposed to be 8,500 millimetre long and it should have 41 seats. But the probe committee found the wheelbase was 8,960 millimetre long and it had 48 seats.
Chassis of the bus was widened by around four feet. Its fitness certificate had expired on May 10, 2015 and the tax token on June 26 that year. The probe committee did not find any document about the vehicle's route permit.
The probe identified reckless driving and illegal overtaking of the bus driver as the main cause of the accident.
It also found plying of rickshaws on the highway, driving vehicles without updated documents, illegal parking of the lorry and changes to the bus' body and chassis as circumstantial causes of the accident.
A day after the accident, a case was filed against the bus driver with Sonargaon Police Station. Later, the case was transferred to Kanchpur Highway Police Station as the accident spot falls under its purview. The BRTA suspended registrations of both the vehicles as they didn't have updated documents.
The probe committee on March 7 sent its report to the road transport ministry with several recommendations, including taking legal actions against the bus driver and owner, said Mahbub-E-Rabbani, director (road safety) of BRTA and also the head of the probe body.
The ministry on April 3 asked the BRTA to take tough actions against the bus driver and owner, said Kamrul Ahsan, joint secretary of the ministry.
He said they asked the BRTA to cancel the registration of the bus, file a case against the bus owner and the workshop concerned for widening the chassis and initiate criminal proceedings against the driver for driving the bus without a valid fitness certificate.
Talking to The Daily Star, Kayum Ali Sarder, officer-in-charge of Kanchpur Highway Police Station, said they verified the ownership of the bus with the BRTA. Police were investigating to find the original owner of the bus as its ownership changed, he added.
The BRTA probe committee said as per the registration certificate, Uttara Finance and Investment Limited is the owner of the bus.
The current owner of the bus is one Parvin Begum of Narayanganj's Siddhirganj. She paid all the installments of money as per the lease agreement with Uttara Finance, said the probe report.
However, Parvin didn't complete the procedure to change the ownership of the bus, it added.
OC Kayum said Parvin, claiming herself to be the owner of the bus, filed a prayer with a Narayanganj court seeking custody of the vehicle and the court ordered police to verify her claim.
Parvin told police that Shipon was driving the bus when the accident took place, the police official mentioned.
As per the probe report, Shipon is from Paschim Laxmipur village in Laxmipur.
The OC said Parvin took away the bus from police last month following the court's order in this regard.
He said they would submit the report, either the charge sheet or the final report, in the accident case once the probe is completed.
A 13 kilometre stretch of Dhaka-Chittagong highway, stretching from Kanchpur to Meghna Bridge, falls under the purview of Kanchpur Highway Police Station. The unfit bus ran on the route for around three years before the accident.
Asked why the police didn't take any action against the bus, OC Kayum said they have no permanent check post in the area and the temporary ones are set up upon directives from the higher authorities.
He said it was the duty of BRTA to take action against the bus operator as it gives fitness clearance certificates.
But a BRTA official said they cancelled the registration of the bus in line with the ministry's directives and cases were filed against the driver, bus owner and workshop owner.
It was the highway police who should have taken action against the “unfit bus” because the BRTA has very little to do if any vehicle don't take annual fitness certificate, he said requesting anonymity.
The official said around 10 lakh vehicles are supposed to obtain fitness clearance certificates annually, but on average around 6.5 lakh do so.
So it is the responsibility of the highway police to trace violators of rules and take action against them, he added.
Our Narayanganj correspondent Sanad Saha contributed to this report.