News Analysis: Road safety a pipe dream? After every accident, driver or vehicle, or both found without valid documents

Every time there is a major road accident, some issues inevitably come to the fore: either the vehicles involved do not have the required documents or the drivers are without valid licences or both.

Saturday’s bus accident in Jhalakathi that took away 17 lives was no exception.

Driver Mohon Khan, who was driving the bus with 62 passengers on board, did not have a licence to operate heavy vehicles.

According to the committee formed to probe the accident, Mohon had a licence to operate only light vehicles — motorcycles and private cars. But he illegally drove the bus, a heavy vehicle, and possibly would have continued to do so if the accident had not occurred.

Barely four months ago, a probe into another fatal road crash in Madaripur’s Shibchar upazila that killed 19 passengers revealed that the vehicle’s fitness certificate was expired, and the driver had a licence to only run medium-sized vehicles.

Such a pattern raises questions: how did the drivers manage to operate vehicles they are not allowed to, and how did the buses manage to run without valid documents?

Experts and road safety campaigners have long been alleging that such vehicles and drivers have been on the roads because the system of monitoring, rules’ enforcement, and issuance of papers is not working.

These vehicles continue to ply the roads by bribing a section of crooked law enforcers, BRTA officials, and politically connected people.

The worrying fact that the campaigners pointed out is that many transport owners and workers find it unnecessary to obtain valid documents from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) as they can easily run their vehicles by bribing officials.

According to BRTA data, around 5.64 lakh vehicles did not have renewed fitness certificates as of April 30.

Of them, 20,362 were buses, 11,245 minibuses, 61,339 trucks and 6,767 taxicabs.

This data speaks volume of the sheer negligence on the part of transport owners and operators about road safety.

Meanwhile, the authorities concerned also seem to have turned a blind eye and do not ensure proper enforcement of fitness checks for vehicles.

The BRTA also lacks adequate manpower and machines to deal with the issuance of fitness certificates.

Currently, there is only one automated vehicle inspection centre under the BRTA in the capital’s Mirpur, but that too is not fully functional as the inspection of most vehicles, including private cars, is done manually.

Furthermore, the BRTA does not have enough inspectors to check growing numbers of vehicles. Why their capacity has not yet been increased and more centres are not set up across the country are questions that remain unanswered.

On the other hand, a huge number of bus drivers continue to operate without valid licences, endangering lives on roads all over the country.

The exact number of drivers with valid licences is hard to find, but sector insiders said that many carry fake ones.

As a result, the drivers are least bothered with road safety as they continue crossing speed limits, overtaking vehicles, and picking up and dropping off passengers anywhere at will, while the authorities responsible for monitoring such violations remain oblivious.

Meanwhile, the list of dead and injured in road accidents is getting longer every day.

BRTA data shows there were 2,865 road crashes this year until July 21, resulting in the deaths of 2,737 people and injuries of 4,201.

The Road Transport Act, which came following an unprecedented road safety movement by school-goers after the deaths of two students in 2018, had given people some hope to see an end to such hazards on the road.

However, four years on, the full implementation of the law remained on hold due to a lack of necessary rules. Though the rules were framed in January this year, the government is yet to implement the act in full-swing.

The problems with our transport sector are all well known and discussed, yet road accidents continue unabated as the authorities concerned could not ensure strict enforcement of the law, stringent punishment to offenders and violators, and create mass awareness.

We cannot afford to lose more lives on our roads.

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