Road accidents have been marked as a global tragedy. The students in Dhaka have been staging protests for justice and safe roads for over a week as several students were killed on roads during the last few years. It is unfortunate that not only the vehicles but also the passersby often break traffic rules. Due to ignorant and reckless behaviour of both, road accidents became a random incident in Bangladesh. Hence, it is required to establish the rules on roads effectively as well as to ensure the rule of law throughout the nation.
Students were demanding a 50 percent student discount for bus fares after authorities hiked rates following an increase in fuel price. The death of Notre Dame College student Nayeem Hasan, who was killed in an accident by a city corporation garbage truck on Nov 24, added further fuel to the protests. Mohammad Mainuddin, an SSC candidate from Ekramunnesa School, was run over by a bus operated by Green Anabil Paribahan on DIT Road around 10 pm on Nov 29.The students said they will continue the movement until the government meets their 11-point demands.
The demand of the students included constructing footpaths, foot over bridges or alternative ways to ensure safe movement for the public and ensuring compensation and rehabilitation for all passengers and transport workers harmed by road accidents. They also demanded the construction of bus stoppage and parking space in a planned way, implementation of laws strictly, legalization of all drivers through training, creation of modern, active traffic system and ensuring accountability of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority through surveillance.
There are several reasons of road accidents in Bangladesh especially Dhaka. There is no different lane for fast and slow vehicles. Moreover, there is no proper stoppage of public transports along with ill competition among the vehicle drivers. This often causes accidents. Bad roads, unfit vehicles, poor traffic management and unskilled or illegal drivers remain among the other major causes of road accidents.
But most importantly, our lack of respect for rules on the streets is the most important factor behind the road accidents. Neither the vehicle drivers nor the people on the roads are respectful towards the traffic law. Many of the drivers, especially of the mass transports, do not have valid license. On many occasions, the vehicles are driven by the helpers of the drivers. Vehicles are also often unfit and hence, the drivers cannot control those properly.
Along with that, the people are often found crossing roads illegally. There is almost no use of zebra crossing. It is always observed that, while the vehicles are running at full speed under the green light or the direction of the traffic police, people keep crossing the road. The motorcycles have become the devil on the roads. They do not follow any traffic rules and often comes in front of other speedy vehicles causing road accidents.
It is true that, we have many limitations like; unplanned roads with few crossing points, poor traffic management, few foot-over bridges, grabbed footpaths and many things else. But whatever we have, we are not using properly. We are bringing unnecessary risks on our lives due to our reckless behaviour on most of the occasions and no law can change this if we do not change ourselves.
Road safety related works has been going on for many years now. Famous film-star Ilias Kanchon had established ‘Nirapod Sorok Chai’ movement immediately after his wife Jahanara Kanchon died in a fatal road accident in 1993. But unfortunately, the movement could not generate desired outcomes as road accidents increases almost every year. During the last few years, students have staged protests against road accidents on multiple occasions but their use of the roads itself is also very much questionable. Unfortunately, their movements on the roads do not reflect their education and we need to change that.
The recent protest of the students started with the issue of half bus fare for the students. It was there for decades, a benefit towards the students as the educational institutes, which were actually liable for transporting the non-resident students, cannot fulfil their responsibilities. But the bus workers do not want to follow that fare. Thanks to the government that, they ensured half bus fare for the students quickly but that will create new and permanent chaos as it was for decades.
The bus workers still do not respect the students and thinks this half-fare deal is unfair for the transport owners. And if they do not take students as passengers or do not stop their vehicle at stoppages where mostly students avail the service, no law can actually ensure that facility for the students.
The government should immediately launch an awareness campaign on road safety awareness. The campaign should have three aspects–for citizens, for the vehicle drivers and for the traffic police itself. The campaign must provide strict directions to follow on roads for all three groups. The traffic police part should also highlight the elimination of corruption while maintaining safety on roads.
The existing traffic laws must be imposed properly but the focus should be moved from giving penalty to creating good concern among people. The government must establish proper mass transport stoppage and road crossing points considering the needs of people from all age groups and ability. Moreover, the damaged roads must be repaired as soon as they get damaged. BRTA must play their role properly rather than only collecting fees. We must do at least these to ensure road safety.
Most importantly, the drivers of vehicles must have some moral training before getting their licenses. BRTA should carry out a counseling session to the new license receivers regarding their responsibility after getting the license and that should include respectfulness to the citizens and their benefits, moral consequences of breaking traffic rules etc. This training will psychologically motivate them to respect people’s rights and safety.
Moreover, the penalty points against each license should be introduced. That is, every license will have a certain point and for each offense, some points will be reduced. If points go below a certain point, then his license will be cancelled or suspended. Several such measures need to be taken to create fear and moral obligation among the drivers.
The student protests for road safety in recent years have sparked another context. During those protests, the students went beyond their authority to stop vehicles on roads, check the licenses of the drivers and even vandalize the vehicles. This unruly behaviour depicts people’s lack of trust on the system as well as absence of the rule of law over the state. This situation can be very dangerous for the future.
While the students were portraying unruly behaviour, they gained the support of the people though the ordinary citizens suffered. This creates scope for chaos in the future. Even terrorism can be the consequence of tolerance of such unruliness at a point. Hence, by tolerating such chaos on the roads, we much not create scope for future risks. The law enforcers and everyone related including the parents and teachers must play their roles with utmost sincerity in this context.
We are going through huge development for the last two decades. It is important to have good human resource as well as stability in the country to sustain that development. The student protests on roads, especially their mode of protest, significantly collides with the concept of ‘rule of law’. While we expect a system which ensures road safety, the welfare of the country as well as the citizens should be the topmost priority. Hence, we must act now to ensure road safety to secure the future of the nation.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency
(MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu
Shishu Kishore Mela