The Road Transport Act 2018 had come into effect few days back. Though it is yet to be implied in full extent, it has already created severe chaos and panic. We have been the victims of transport strike for a short period immediately after the implementation of this law. The law was passed in parliament on September 19, 2018. More than a year after it was passed into a law, the Road Transport Act, 2018 officially came into effect across Bangladesh.
The authorities in charge of enforcing the law, however, are not fully prepared for the job as they are still in dilemma with the implementation guideline, which is yet to be finalized. This law is very strict in nature and the drivers of vehicles and the vehicle owners will be highly punished for offences made. But there is nothing about the welfare of the victims of road accidents in this law and that compels us to think who the real beneficiaries of this law are.
We need to protect the people by this law but we cannot expect that there will be no road accidents. If a family loses it’s only earning member in a road accident, the whole family’s future gets ruined. It is more important to support such victim families. But there is no such law in our country. During the recent railway accidents where the negligence was completely on the part of the railway employees, the victim families were compensated with around one lac taka but it cannot be enough for the victim’s family especially in today’s Bangladesh. Not only for road accidents but also for railway accidents and waterway accidents, there should be clear provision of compensating the victims’ families either killed or injured.
Now if we come into the law, there are many things which are not logical. First of all, there will be road accidents till the end of the world. It is not always the fault of the drivers as many things can influence an accident. For example, if someone is driving on a highway and suddenly an animal appears in front of the car, in an effort to avoid crushing that animal, the driver might make a sudden lane violation which may cause a major accident. It is a natural reflex which can be deadly. But we cannot blame the driver for that. We can never eliminate the human error or reflex error from driving.
The drivers are merely human, not robot and accidents will occur.
Moreover, the cars are merely machines and any part of those machines can fail at any point of time on the road which may cause accidents and we cannot eliminate that risk also. Then it is impossible to force someone to drive with so much fear of the law as the new law will drag him up to the court for the trial which might serve him with death sentence.
There is no country in the world where death sentence is applicable for accidents. Whenever there is an accident, it should be judged if the driver had a valid license, if the car had proper fitness certificate and if the driver was in full control of his mind. If those were alright, then a nominal accident case can be filed. But with everything valid, someone should not be arrested for an accident however cruel it might sound.
One thing has come into the discussion again and again regarding this new law and that is deliberate accident or killing. Usually none deliberately commits an accident. If someone does, then that is murder, not accident. So, what should be the definition of deliberate accident is not very clear. If an accident is caused by drunk driving, then it should be termed as simple murder as the driver himself was the weapon of murder in that case. It cannot be termed as deliberate accident. The law proposes trial under the Penal Code’s Section 302, which stipulates death sentence for murder, in case of a road accident is found to be deliberate act to kill someone.
In case of deaths by reckless driving, offenders will be tried under the proposed Act’s Section 103, which stipulates a maximum penalty of five years in jail. It is completely alright to serve that punishment if guilty but we cannot justify arresting someone without warrant or making the offences non-bailable during trial considering the context of Bangladesh where years passes during the trial process. The laws should not be so intimidating that the welfare of people remains ignored.
Here the question is what about the welfare of the victims. If an accident is occurred the vehicle owner has to pay the government fine among which a portion goes to the official filing the case or the driver is jailed. But there is nothing about the victim though there must be.
All vehicle owners pay insurance which provides accident coverage. In all developed countries, the insurance companies compensate the victims. In our country, we pay a huge amount on fitness certificate update and car tax every year. It is like the vehicle owners have committed a crime by purchasing a vehicle and every year they have to pay the penalty. The government should reduce the tax token and fitness renewal fee significantly and the insurance coverage limit should be increased rather so that, in case of an accident, the insurance company provides accident coverage to the victim’s family.
The focus of the new Road Transport Act 2018 should be the welfare of the victims rather than ensuring discipline on the streets as with inadequate roads, irresponsible citizens and dishonest traffic law enforcers, the law can never ensure discipline on the streets of Bangladesh.
There are some other sides of the new law which seems to be absurd. It is true that illegal parking of vehicles is a major problem in the megacity like Dhaka. But it is not possible to move around in this city without illegal parking. There are hundreds of offices, shopping malls, hospitals, educational institutions, commodity products shops where there is no parking space.
The government’s assigned authorities like RAJUK has approved construction of those buildings and the City Corporations issued trade license and is charging fees every year. They should be punished for permitting those establishments without proper parking facility. If someone has to visit any of those establishments where there is no parking facility, then how he can use legal parking provisions. Now a vehicle owner has to pay a fine of as much as Tk.35,000 or the driver has to be in jail for three months. But for the failure of the government, it is not justified to receive such penalties.
The traffic management in Dhaka or other metro cities in Bangladesh is so poor that many traffic offences are induced by that. For example, our traffic officials never tend to care about the sirens of ambulances which may carry critical patients and minutes can be vital. Sometimes there is no way but to move on the wrong sides of the roads. But there is no provision for such acts in the new law. If someone moves on the wrong side then he has to pay the same penalty as it was for illegal parking. Humanity might get killed in this process and we do not know who will compensate the victim of these cases.
The imposed penalties in the new law are not at all compatible with the economy of Bangladesh. It is not possible to thousands of taka for minimum traffic rule violation as our infrastructure, traffic system and traffic law enforcers are not at all ready to follow traffic rules properly. For a small traffic rule violation, one person’s whole month’s income can be fined which is highly improper.
The government has failed to prohibit the citizens from wrongly crossing the roads and it cannot be done by laws. There should be proper infrastructure to do that. There is no proper footpath facility in Bangladesh and the citizens are compelled to walk on the streets. Even after lots of discussions, the footpaths of Bangladesh are inadequate and grabbed. There is no proper zebra crossings as the utilization of those are not known to the citizens as well as traffic police.
We often question why the citizens do not use foot-over bridges and cross the roads from just under. As there is no security or maintenance of those foot-over bridges, the citizens have to avoid using those. Moreover, for physically unfit people, it is very difficult to use those. So, it is not a solution right now as Bangladesh is not Singapore and we should rely on proper usage of zebra crossings which must be placed in close proximities so that a person need not walk a long way to find a zebra crossing.
If an accident takes place where a vehicle crushes a person wrongly crossing the street, then that driver or the vehicle owner should not be charged however harsh it might sound. The government should focus on these small solutions rather than imposing large fines.
Traffic management in Bangladesh and especially in cities like Dhaka is very critical and requires lots of long term plans. It should not be an eye-catchy stunt. Without developing proper infrastructure, imposing large penalties of which a large part will go directly into the pockets of the case filing person can be very pathetic decision.
We completely understand that ensuring discipline on the roads is a must but that should focus only on the welfare of the citizens rather than that of any other groups. We do not find much concern about the welfare of the victims or citizens from this new law. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is regarded worldwide for her wisdom, of which the Bangladeshi citizens were greatly benefitted for over a decade. We hope she would take this matter seriously to make necessary adjustments.
We are developing as a country and we are moving to a culture of self-driving. The laws cannot consider everyone as uneducated drivers and should not put an honourable citizen behind the bars for small violations or should not empty our pockets. Our focus should never be to intimidate someone about driving or should create scope for further dishonesty.
We expect a law which would restore discipline on the streets with all mechanisms working properly with honest and effective authority, proper infrastructure, well informed citizens, economy considered law and fit vehicles. But most importantly, the welfare of the citizens should be the topmost priority as we all need safe roads.
The writer is chief editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), editor at Kishore Bangla and vice-chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)