'Break rules' now rules highways
Lawlessness and anarchy have gripped the country's road communication with drivers wilfully violating traffic rules and exposing people to hazardous accidents every day.
The scenario on roads is strikingly similar throughout the country. Drivers of buses, trucks, vans, private cars and microbus are constantly involved in mindless and wild races without the slightest respect for human lives. This is all happening right under the nose of law enforcers, who unfortunately don't carry much respect from the defiant drivers for obvious reasons.
Statistics show every year nearly 4,000 people die in around 20,000 road crashes across the country. Damages worth crores of taka are incurred due mainly to unabated reckless driving amid an anarchic situation on the roads. In addition, a quarter of a million people sustain minor to grave injuries in the accidents, adding to the increasing number of people without limbs.
Officials of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), the only regulatory body after the law enforcers, openly admit that up to five lakh "drivers" are active without valid licences. Even drivers with valid licences are mostly unaware of traffic laws because the country lacks proper driving schools, BRTA officials add.
The BRTA has failed to set up modern driving schools as it had envisaged in its planning. The failure of BRTA has prompted thousands of unemployed young men from the rural areas, many of them without literacy, to seek lessons from unqualified sources for entering an ever increasing job market throughout the country.
Every day 200 vehicles get registered with the BRTA to add to the swarming number of 1.5 million vehicles, crammed into a dilapidated and grossly inadequate road network.
Among all the vehicles shuttling between districts, passenger buses and lorries are the most notorious for reckless driving. The inter district bus drivers with their powerful motor vehicles cross all driving rules and often reach the speed of up to 130 kilometres per hour. These drivers do not even bother to slow down while crossing bazaars and localities or even speed breakers set up by angry villagers in a bid to slow them down.
While overtaking another vehicle, a bus driver commonly undertakes the most dangerous manoeuvres ignoring the oncoming vehicles. It is a very common on the highways to find vehicles taking evasive measures by leaving the main road lane and sheltering on the hard shoulder to avoid a head-on collision. With most roads and their shoulders badly damaged, fatal accidents have become inevitable in these circumstances.
Dilapidated roads also play a big role in the occurrence of accidents at an alarming rate. Many time-bound bus drivers madly speed up over potholes and ditches refusing to slow down. This often leads to skidding.
A BRTA official said lakhs of vehicles of all modes are plying the major roads without fitness certificates. "Most of the older vehicles, including long distance buses and trucks, are not fit at all," said the official requesting not to be named.
Relation between police and transport workers has, in fact, grown on the basis of the massive irregularities in the road transport sector. Every bus, truck, microbus and commercial vehicle has to pay a monthly "fee" to the police. In return, the drivers and the owners enjoy an unwritten clemency.
"There is no respect among the transport workers for the police mainly because they think they have bought them up," said the BRTA official.
The highway police, created in 2005 to secure the highways and prevent accidents, are in reality content themselves by ensuring smooth passage for VIPs crossing the area.
According to a retired police officer, there is not an instance that the highway police have punished a driver for violating traffic laws or plying without a licence or fitness certificate, he added.
Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Humayun Kabir said the over 2000-strong highway police were mainly formed to prevent accidents on the roads.
The highway police in its Eastern and Western zones have only eight serving officers, which is "grossly inadequate" for maintaining safety on the highways because officers are required to prosecute an offender, said Kabir.
"In the Eastern zone comprising 29 districts, we have only four officers, while the same scenario prevails in the Western zone covering 35 districts," the DIG added.
"We have only one outpost in the entire division of Barisal led by a sub-inspector," he added, explaining the constraints he has been facing with the highway police.