Highway accident or murder?
The horrific crash that killed 19 people on the Dhaka-Bhanga expressway on Sunday highlights nearly all the problems with our road transport system. Firstly, the bus which smashed through a highway fence and plunged into a ditch should never have been on the road in the first place. Having been involved in another serious accident only four months ago – which killed three people and injured 15 others – the bus had its registration and route permit suspended by the authorities. Its fitness permit also expired on January 18. Yet, the owner of the vehicle kept it running. All this exposes the serious lack of enforcement of rules by the relevant government agencies, including the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and the highway police.
BRTA authorities have reportedly said that they do not have the manpower to check whether all vehicles plying on the roads have proper documentations. Such excuses to escape responsibility for tragic consequences seem to have become the norm among government officials and agencies, but at what cost? The number of lives that continue to be lost as a result of unfit vehicles or drivers keeps piling up. Who will answer for them? As one expert has said, the highway police should be well aware of the fact that early mornings are risky hours and, therefore, should strengthen monitoring at that time. But such steps should be taken before accidents happen although, in our case, they are usually not taken even after so many tragic deaths.
Even though the cause of the latest crash has not been confirmed yet, witnesses alleged that the bus was speeding. Other suspected reasons include a punctured tyre – which could have been avoided had the vehicle gone through proper fitness testing – or the driver falling asleep at the wheel. Given the inhumane working hours that drivers of passenger vehicles in our country are forced to endure, despite the Road Transport Act 2018 clearly stating that drivers cannot drive for more than five straight hours or a total of eight hours a day, such accidents are, in fact, just waiting to happen.
At the heart of it all is the enduring problem of lack of enforcement of relevant rules by the authorities. For any improvement to take place, road safety campaigners and experts say, there must first be a shift in the business-as-usual attitude of those in charge of the transport sector, including the top brass at the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges. Yet, nothing seems to change.
Their continued apathy and dereliction despite the loss of so many lives can only be considered criminal. This must be fixed before anything else. Responsible agencies and officers must be held accountable for their repeated failure to do their job. As for the Dhaka-Bhanga expressway tragedy, the authorities must punish the vehicle owner for flouting suspensions and keeping the bus running. We don't need exemplary punishment; we need regularly meted out punishment in light of the law so that transport owners/drivers know better than to breach it. There is no alternative to enforcing the law properly, evenly and regularly.