Road accidents are becoming one of the greatest threats to human lives in Bangladesh today. Thousands of lives are being lost on the roads and it is increasing sharply every year. Road accidents destroy many families forever. This is turning into a man-made calamity. Though many things are being promised, roads are not getting any safer in Bangladesh. Deaths and injuries from road accidents are getting higher than diseases. It is a greater pandemic than COVID-19 in the context of Bangladesh. Hence, serious steps are required to reduce accidents on roads and to compensate the victims.
Around 1.2 million people are being killed and more than 50 million people are being injured in road accidents each year around the world. Due to Urbanization and motorization, road accident has been increasing significantly over the last few years. According to the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of BUET, on an average, 20 people are dying every day in Bangladesh. Reckless driving, overloading identified as a significant cause for road accidents. Moreover, motorbikes have a higher number of accidents in Bangladesh.
Both the incidents of deaths and injuries in road accidents in Bangladesh saw a drastic rise in 2021 compared to 2020, according to Road Safety Foundation (RSF). The RSF also estimated Tk 96.31 billion as the human resources loss from the fatalities in the accidents. Some 6,284 people were killed and 7,468 others injured in road accidents from January to December 2021 across the country while at least 5,431 people were killed and 7,379 others injured in road accidents in 2020, according to an annual report prepared by the organization.
Two-wheeler bikes are at least 30 times more accident-prone compared with four-wheelers. Many western countries and some Asian countries particularly Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia have already started encouraging the use of bicycles replacing motorbikes to reduce accidents. But no serious attention is being paid to control motorbikes in Bangladesh. Rather the government’s fiscal policy promotes these two-wheeler vehicles, claimed the experts. With the increase of motorbikes on the roads, the number of fatal accidents is also rising.
The casualties in motorcycle accidents doubled in the last two years, according to the 2021 report of RSF. In 2021, 2,214 people were killed in 2,078 motorcycle accidents, which are 35.23% of the total casualties and 38.68% of all road accidents respectively. But the total number of people who lost lives in motorcycle accidents was 1,462 in 2020 and 945 in 2019. The number of motorbike accidents was only 1,189 in 2019.
According to science, two-wheeler vehicles are 30 times more accident-prone than four-wheeler vehicles. But the risk might be higher here in Bangladesh due to chaotic traffic and lack of safety measures. The two-wheelers have no balance and are very unstable, which causes accidents even due to speed breakers and small potholes. They face greater risks of being hit by large vehicles. Its riders are mostly youths and teenagers who feel thrilled with speed and high-sound and love to ride recklessly. Since there is no shield for motorcyclists and pillion riders, they are killed, in many cases, by the second strike or run over by another vehicle on active roads.
According to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), the number of registered motorcycles is more than 35,00,000. Nearly 9,00,000 of the registered motorcycles operate in Dhaka city alone. In many other countries, bicycles instead of motorbikes are promoted for the sake of the safety and healthy life as well as to prevent environmental pollution as two-wheelers are a major source of noise pollution. Dhaka city stays on top in terms of noise pollution and hence, considering all facts, we also need to promote bicycles as a transport solution too.
The victims of road accidents in the country are mostly earning people. This has an impact on the country’s economy. ARI has prepared an account of the number of people killed and injured in accidents and the socio-economic loss of the people dependent on them. According to that figure, the country has incurred losses of Tk 1,090 billion in the last three years. Accidents and subsequent casualties are increasing in the country every year.
According to Md Hadiuzzaman, director of ARI, assessing the financial loss due to the road accidents, if the casualties on the road could be reduced by 70 per cent, it would be possible to build a Padma bridge every year with the additional revenue that would be added to the economy. According to the researchers of ARI and police sources, in the last two years, public transport in the country was closed for 150 days due to the pandemic. In addition, there were restrictions. The number of road accidents and the amount of loss in these two years would have increased even more, if things had been normal.
Those responsible for killing in road accidents are rarely punished under the laws in Bangladesh. Since there is no insurance system, a road accident is enough to destroy a family. The previous motor vehicle law had a provision on a compensation of Tk 20,000 for a family losing a member in road crash. The government enacted the new road transport law in 2019 incorporating provisions on formation of a fund to help road accident victims. But no fund has been formed as yet.
BRTA formulated the draft of the road transport act in 2020, outlining details of the fund. The government has not approved the draft as yet. The draft law states a person sustaining injury in a road accident will receive Tk 300,000 in compensation and a family losing a member in road accident will get Tk 500,000. Money for the fund will come from the government, fees of vehicle owners, various fines realized under the road transport law, from vehicle owners’ and transport workers’ associations, in addition to money from any legal sources.
According to various research findings and expert opinions, there are several main reasons for road accidents in the country. These include recklessness of drivers, excessive speed, faulty vehicles and roads. Other than these, no specific salary and working hours for drivers, movement of low-speed vehicle on the highways, tendency to ride motorcycles recklessly, tendency to not learn about and abide by traffic laws, weak traffic management and extortion in public transport sector are other reasons for road accidents.
Allocation for road communication development has increased in the national budget over the past 12 years. New roads have been built and old roads have widened. The government passed a new road transport act in the face of student protest for road safety. But the reality is that deaths on the road are not decreasing.
Only creating laws are not going to help much to reduce road accidents. It will require strict implementation as well as creating awareness. Traffic laws and management both should be modernized following the developed countries. BRTA must do its duty honestly as that will matter a lot. No life can be valued at Tk 20,000 or Tk 5,00,000. It is much more from the perspective of a victim’s family. A well compensation package should be developed. If road accidents cannot be reduced, we will be economically harmed as not only lives are lost but also human resources become incapable of productive works.
We hope the government will take effective measures to ensure safety on roads as road accidents have become a real monster. We must not let a single life get harmed on the roads of our country.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela