How to make our ROADS SAFER | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 22, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:53 AM, October 22, 2015

How to make our ROADS SAFER

On October 17, The Daily Star organised a roundtable to promote dialogue on how to make Bangladesh's roads safer. Today, on National Road Safety Day, we publish the highlights of the discussion.

Brigadier General Shahedul Anam Khan (Retd.)
Associate Editor, The Daily Star and  moderator

Many thanks for your presence. A more appropriate heading for today's roundtable would have been “How to make our roads safe” rather than what it reads now, “Safer”. Roads that account for more than 10,000 deaths and 30,000 injuries can never be termed as 'safe.' For example, during the four days of Eid-ul-Fitr this year 40 people were killed and 100 injured. The positive aspect is that this number is fewer than that of the two previous years, suggesting that efforts have been put to improve the situation.

Roads to be made safe needs the active participation of all the  stakeholders –the public, the drivers and owners, and the government.  
What we would like to spend most of the next three ours discussing and identifying are  the solutions and ways to implement those. Raod safety problem is like a 'calamity'; the yearly loss of life in road accidents has surpassed casualities suffered in natural calamities in Bangladesh.

Colonel AR Mohammad Parvez Mazumder
Director (technical), Bangladesh Road Transport
Corporation (BRTC)

There are three issues that need to be addressed with regard to road safety, which I believe will ensure safer roads and the safety of the people. Our roads and associated infrastructure are not up to par; starting from illegal stoppages to footpaths and flyovers to over-bridges, this problem can be seen in every road infrastructure. Secondly, we need to investigate whether these means of transportation are suitable for our country. Lastly, the problem lies with the people themselves. I believe that we, as a whole, are not truly aware about road safety or the laws concerning road safety.

In my division, there are 1,563 trained drivers. Of these, only 418 are currently working under the division I control. I have tried to achieve 100 percent output from the 33 percent of manpower that we currently have but that is not possible. When I joined BRTC, I had around 1000 buses in my fleet but now I have over 1,100 buses. So we need the help of formally and informally leased drivers.

We have surface footpaths; we could turn these footpaths to sub-surface or overhead footpaths with fencing. We also don't have standardisation of vehicles in the country; articulated buses, for example, look great and work efficiently but the parking spaces in the country are so inadequate that these buses don't really suit the roads of the country. In short, I'd like to stress the need to think of an issue in the context of our country instead of seeing how it works in other countries.

Faruk Talukder Sohel
Chairman, Bangladesh Bus-Truck
Owners' Association

If we look at the post-independence era of Bangladesh, we see that safety as a paramount importance had never been taken into consideration. Come to think of it, if after more than 40 years of independence we have 50,000 km of roads unfriendly for pedestrians, slow-moving vehicles and such, how many more decades will it take until we have quality roads?

According to the BRTA, we have 22 lakh registered vehicles but only 15 lakh licensed drivers which means there are at least 7 lakh unlicensed drivers. I can guarantee you that the BRTA, with its limited manpower and resources, cannot fix this problem even in the next fifty years. To have able drivers on the streets we must tackle the issue of unlicensed drivers which is increasing by the day. We don't even have a system in place that records the number of accidents each driver has caused. 

No matter the number of seminars we hold, no real change can be made until the root causes are addressed. I strongly believe that the BRTA needs to work in partnership with the private sector and the passport system's success is burning proof that collaboration with the private sector can work wonders.

Mirajul Moin Joy
International Secretary
Nirapad Sarak Chai (NISCHA)

Most people hold only drivers accountable for road accidents. I would say our drivers are pretty skilled considering the condition of our roads. Everybody has to be responsible for making our roads safe -- pedestrians, vehicle owners, traffic police, highway police, etc. It has become a norm for our drivers not to abide by the traffic rules. They do not maintain the speed limit, frequently overtake other vehicles and overload their vehicles. On the other hand, pedestrians cross roads simply by raising their hands. We have foot overbridges which pedestrians hardly use.

We have to go to the BRTA for getting driving license. We have to go to the home ministry in order to implement laws and to the law ministry for enacting new laws. But we don't have a central governing body where these people can meet and find solutions of problems. If we can establish a national road safety authority that will take the decisions regarding road safety issues, I think we will be able to make roads safe in 10 to 20 years.

Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury
Secretary General, Bangladesh Passengers'
Welfare Association (pwab)

We do not know the exact figure of road crash casualties. We should maintain a national database where all the stakeholders will provide their data.

A study shows that 76 percent of road crashes happen due to head-to-head collision. To stop the menace we need to create awareness among the drivers which does not need huge amounts of money.

We also need to increase load capacity of the existing highways so that those can handle the ever-growing volume of road traffic. 

Our driver registration process is not satisfactory. We often see experienced drivers do not get licenses whereas amateur drivers easily manage them. So there is something wrong with the registration system. Moreover, we need to build a national institute for training our drivers properly.

The process of issuing fitness certificate for vehicles is also inefficient. They often provide certificates without physically checking the vehicle.

There is a national body for road safety called National Road Safety Council. Now it has 44 members. But there is no representative from passengers who can address their sufferings. There is also no research wing in the national body. I think the government should include passengers' representatives in the committee and open a research wing. I am hopeful about the proposal of forming national road safety authority. It will create more opportunities for passengers' welfare organisations to contribute to road safety issues.  

Md. Mokhlesur Rahman
Organising Secretary, bangladesh road
transport workers' federation (BRTWF)

There are some public and private initiatives for training drivers but that is not affordable for poor people. Government should provide adequate funds for these training projects.

Road safety issues should be included in the textbooks. Media should highlight the issue of road safety to raise awareness. 

The new driver registration process is complex. It is difficult for an illiterate person to pass the registration exam. He has to fill up various forms which is unnecessary for a driver. If a physically fit person can understand signs and signals and know how to drive he should be given the license. To fill the huge gap of registered drivers, we should simplify the licensing process.  

Khandaker Enayet ullah
General Secretary, Bangladesh road
transport owners' association

Road crossing at undesignated places and overtaking are two major causes of road crashes. If we have dividers on the highways, overtaking, which often lead to head-on collision, will stop. After the death of Tareque Masud and Mishuk Munier a divider was built along the curve where the crash happened on the Dhaka-Aricha highway, significantly reducing the number of crashes there.

The condition of roads has improved, thanks to the hard work of the government. For the first time, BRTA is organising several training programmes. They are also running awareness campaigns. The 28 or so driving schools of BRTC, that were not operational for a long time, now are.

 According to the Motor Vehicle Ordinance, a driver cannot work longer than an eight-hour shift. But we have a serious shortage of skilled drivers due to which drivers have to work longer hours. Each RTC at the district level can organise training programmes for drivers.

Some people say that the condition of public transport is very poor in our country. But how many crashes actually take place due to the poor condition of vehicles?

As citizens, transport owners, workers and journalists, if we all play our parts, the number of road crashes will decrease.   

Apurba Saha
Manager Technical
Road Safety Programme, BRAC

I have talked to many government officials about road safety issues. Unfortunately, most of them are not adequately aware about it. It does not get priority in their daily responsibilities. That's why most of the district and upazila road safety committees are inactive. We can significantly reduce road crash casualties by following the ToR of these local committees.

Last year, BRAC did a research on road safety. Technical development of roads and highways and training of drivers were two important recommendations of the research. BRAC has a driver training course named Surokkha. It is on defensive driving. We see our drivers are skilled enough in driving but they lack social responsibility. They are not sensitised about safe driving. Under this project we have so far trained only 600-700 drivers. We cannot train the huge number of drivers alone. We need support from the government and different owners' associations. A research data in India shows that this two days training can save 30 percent of the maintenance cost. So it is good news for the owners also.

Sara Hossain
Advocate
Supreme Court of Bangladesh

Our existing law on road safety is over 30 years old, and needs an urgent overhaul. The new Road Traffic and Transport Act has been in draft for years, and still hasn't been enacted. Urgent measures are needed for wider public consultation and then adoption of the law, and for it to be backed up by training of officials, and resources for the investigation and prosecution of cases, and for fast-tracking of courts.

Of course the law itself cannot solve all the problems, but it can prescribe measures for prevention and punishment. The existing legal procedures for monitoring and evaluation of issuance of fitness certificates and driving licenses are not followed. The Road Safety Council and the various grassroots level committees are barely functional.

After the death of Tareque Masud and Mishuk Munier, four years ago, and responding to the outpouring of national grief on that occasion, the High Court gave important orders in a public interest litigation requiring responses from the state on these issues, and on investigation, trial, punishment and compensation. The case remains pending for hearing. 

District level session courts have powers to hear civil suits for compensation in road injury and road crash cases. But we get reports that in most districts, neither judges nor lawyers are aware of this. Few cases are filed. In Tareque and Mishuk's cases, their families filed civil suits for compensation in an effort to try to establish accountability.

This was an exception. Too often, after road crashes, a 'settlement' is often reached on the spot, and no action against perpetrators. This is almost always the case for those who are powerful, politically connected and moneyed. We are told that for poor victims money is more important than accountability or punishment of the offender. But every victim is entitled to justice and accountability to demand adequate compensation and not just a handout.

We have to focus on accountability and enforcement of the law. We have to guarantee that the poor and powerless can get justice in this country, and ask the hard questions about why they don't.

Ahnaf Choudhury
Bar-at-law
Dr. Kamal Hossain & Associates

There is a proposed “Transport and Traffic Act” that includes a provision of compensating the victims of road crash. This proposed act is intended to cover all the road users, i.e. motorised as well as non-motorised vehicles and pedestrians. In terms of compensating the victims, 'accident' has been given a broad definition, same as the case with the definition of victims. It covers the family members or representatives of the person deceased or injured as a result of road crash.

To implement and make this Act functional, new rules will have to be promulgated under that Act. There is also a provision inserted “Hit and Run Motor Accident.” What it intends to do is, if the culprit responsible for a crash cannot be identified after an accident, the victims would be compensated by a fund which is supposed to be set up and maintained by the government. The question is, how should that fund be maintained and administered? Would the benefits of that fund reach the victims? If the new Act is implemented, everyone (lawyers, judges, prosecutors) should be aware of the timeframe within which an accident case is disposed as there is always a huge backlog in the courts.

AKM Fazlur Rahman
Executive Director, Centre for
Injury Prevention and Research,
Bangladesh (CIPRB)

There is definitely a correlation between economic development of a country and road safety. As research has shown, there is an inverted U-shaped relationship between the two. In the beginning stages of the development of a country road crashes tend to increase because population, vehicles and roads are all on the rise. Later, road crashes tend to fall when per capita income of a country reaches $5000. But we cannot sit around waiting for our per capita income to get to $5000.

The UN and WHO have declared 2011-2020 as the decade of action on road safety.. They have stipulated five pillars, one of which is the management of road safety. We have a road safety council, but ad hoc bodies for road safety, armed with a specific budget, could be designated to each locality. Two to five percent of the budget for road construction is supposed to be invested into road safety measures but I am not sure whether it's being implemented. We need to look into these things. We must also take precautionary measures, especially after injuries and deaths on the roads, so they can be avoided in the future.

Saifuddin Ahmed
Executive Director
work for a better bangladesh trust (WBB)

We are planning to make room for three and a half crore people in Dhaka by 2035. That would put tremendous pressure on our roads. Only expanding roads or improving the quality of vehicles will not help. If we can develop the divisional towns and properly decentralise power, I think we will be able to address many of the persisting problems. We just need strong political will. At present a school teacher has to come to Dhaka if he wants to get transferred to another school, whereas he should be able to do that in his own divisional town. We need to limit unnecessary road travel.

We need to know the exact number of vehicles that are plying the roads at present and also the number of drivers. Where have all the taxi cabs and the BRTC buses gone? Does BRTA have a database?

We need more driving schools. BRTA should work within a framework and encourage the private initiatives to establish driving schools. Lastly, we need to consider the possibilities of rail travel.

Dr. M Mostafa Zaman
National Professional
Officer, WHO

The actual figure of road crash casualties is not available as all crashes are not recorded by police. So the real figure of the casualties is more than the reported figure. There should be no compromise in case of providing driving licenses. The minimum educational qualification of a driver should be SSC. The government should arrange a rigorous driving training programme for the drivers and increase their pay scale and job status to encourage them. Strict enforcement of laws is the most important thing to make roads safer.

It is urgent to develop alternative ways of travel such as railways and waterways to reduce the pressure on roads. Since independence, no government has addressed this issue. Moreover, our cities are not well-planned. Unplanned urbanisation forces us to make unnecessary travels.

Children should be taught to read road signs and cross the roads carefully from a very early age.

Md. Showkat Ali
Secretary, BANGLADESH ROAD TRANSPORT
AUTHORITY (BRTA)

BRTA acts as a regulatory body in road management and road safety. The government has been implementing National Road Safety Strategic Action Plan 2014-2016 to ensure road safety. There are nine sectors in the plan: Planning management and coordination of road safety; road safety education and publicity; road accident data system, road safety engineering, medical service for road accident victims; vehicle safety; traffic legislation; traffic enforcement; and driver training and testing. The government has distributed the responsibilities among all the stakeholders: The Road Transport and Bridges Ministry, BRTA, DMP, DTCA, Roads and Highways, BRTC, owners' and workers' association. The civil society has also been involved in this. I don't think we need a separate body to deal with road safety issues. We just need to strengthen the existing bodies.

Vehicle registration, giving fitness certificates, issuing and renewing driving licenses, etc., are some of our services. Some of our services are online; the rest will be online soon. With the assistance of KOIKA, we will soon introduce Vehicle Inspection Centres (VIC). We are planning to have a data centre soon which will make the system of getting driving license easier. Our Honourable Minister has declared that within December 31, 2015 the BRTA will provide digitalised number plates for all vehicles, which will reduce vehicle theft. We are also considering introducing GPS system. At present BRTA is working under the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983. We have drafted a new law namely, Bangladesh Road Transport Act 2015, which is on our website. We would request you to give your valued comment on the act.

Syed Abul Maksud
Activist and columnist

Activist and columnist We can't look at road accidents on an individual level but rather take them as a whole. If we consider a conservative estimate, at least 3 lakh people have died in accidents since our independence, and seven lakh people have been wounded.

If these people had died due to cholera or bird flu, then it would result in a hue and cry within the government and the media. It's only when the civil society and the people created uproar (after Mishuk Munier and Tarek Masud's death), that the government actually took notice of the issue over the last few years.  

The fact is, all of us – drivers, pedestrians and the concerned authorities – are responsible for these accidents. But we are yet to come up with a solution. Why is that? The first reason would be corruption. Political influence and our social mindset are other reasons. The recent case of a young boy who was responsible for a car crash further establishes this. What if the case was the reverse? What if those who were wounded in this incident were responsible for injuring this boy, who belongs to a rich, influential family? The police seemed so sympathetic that no case has been filed!    

Instead of engaging in blame games, we need to work together to ensure safety on our roads and raise awareness in this regard. Strict enforcement of law is also a must.

Mahfuz Anam
Editor, The Daily Star

We do not want to go into the politics of blame game. We only seek solutions. We want to focus on how all the stakeholders, including the media, can work together to make roads safe. To comprehend the complexity of the issue of road safety we first need some basic statistics. If the statistics are lacking, let's work on collecting useful data so we can understand the gravity of the problem and initiate appropriate measures.

Not only should we enact road safety related laws but we must also ensure that the current situation does not exacerbate. We regularly see practices that are completely contradictory to universal norms, for example, cars going in the opposite direction. Some of the most fundamental laws of road safety are being broken and people are losing lives due to road crashes on a daily basis.

As a newspaper, our duty is to reflect public opinion and raise awareness on urgent national concerns, and we have identified road safety as such.

 

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