On 4th of April, it struck me with awe when a news channel was showing a part of right hand of Rajib Hossein, a third year student of the Government Titumir College, that got stuck between two speeding buses trying to overtake each other in the capital’s Bangla Motor area. This incident indicates that roads and highways of our country are not safe.The high rate of fatal accidents in Bangladesh is a cause for trepidation. It is no denying the fact that the road networks in our country are in poor conditions and poorly maintained, intercity roads are narrow and streetlights are rare even in cities. Thus, the issue of road accident has drawn attention of all.
One of the important questions that are being asked in the daily life is that what is the consequence of road accidents? As a matter of fact, the incident of road accidents inflicts a burden on the community which may be described from two perspectives. First, the pain, fear, and suffering imposed by the occurrence, or the risk of the occurrence of road accident. These are considered of great importance in a society that values human life and human welfare. Second, the more concrete and ascertainable burdens in the form of the net loss of the output of goods and services due to the death and injury and the expenditure of the resources necessary to make good the effects of the accident, e.g. medical expenses, vehicle repairs and cost of administration.
Above are the theoretical effects of accidents only. However, there are some hidden effects of road accidents that cannot be evaluated in concrete terms, but can be felt by the family members of the victims throughout their life. Nowadays, road accidents have been an unavoidable and common phenomenon in Bangladesh. Thus, we are compelled to hear death news of many people due to road accidents every day.
Along with the frequent deaths of the passengers, many of our great personalities, who were considered as assets of the country were also compelled to accept death due to road accidents. Like other incidences, the whole country experienced such an accident in 2011 that caused death of two of our prominent media personalities, Tareque Masud and Mishuk Munier. These two men were treated as institutions. Both of them, through their brilliant work; established themselves as a potent force in the media community. Their successes were recognised beyond the boundaries of Bangladesh. The vacuum that was created in our media community due to their untimely death has not been filled even today. History will take decades of time to produce such extraordinary brilliances. Of course, their memories have been faded away in the course of time, but the family members of these victims are still carrying their memories. This is such type of pain that cannot be felt by others who have not experienced it.
Now one may wonder why incidents of road accidents are taking place so frequently. What are the main factors behind such occurrences? Is there any solution to reduce the rate of road accidents? Experts and researchers have identified a number of causes of road accidents in Bangladesh. Among those, few prominent causes are poor traffic management, incompetence of the drivers, faulty vehicles, shabby roads, falling unconscious while driving and becoming drivers from helpers before learning the job properly. Different organisations are working on the issue of road accidents for a long time. Many of them have come up with different suggestions and have submitted those to the responsible authorities.
One of the striking facts is that the rate of road accidents has not yet reduced to a satisfactory level despite a number of attempts were taken by the government. Rather, it has reached an alarming situation. Most importantly, the involved actors (including drivers and owners of the vehicle) those who are responsible for road accidents, manage to get freed due to lack of strict legal provision of the law. The association of drivers and owners of the vehicle is so powerful that they create pressure on the government to refrain from enacting strict laws. Whenever the government takes an initiative in this regard, strikes are called by these associations that cause severe sufferings for the public. Thus, the government is compelled to step back. Since there is no mandatory passenger insurance, these people are not even paid any compensation and insurance.
Another issue that deserves mention here is that driving license and fitness certificates of vehicles are issued in exchange of money. It is taken for granted that helpers without receiving proper training are getting transformed into drivers. Even they are becoming successful in obtaining a driving license through the exchange of money. Exemplary punishments are hardly taken against those people who remain involved in corruption while issuing driving license. As a result, there is a continuing increase in the number of people dying as a result of road accidents. Another important fact is that drivers who are driving vehicles recklessly and unconsciously and causing accidents are not brought under punishment.
Thus, a moot question is why it is so? Of course, like different issues that are considered from political points of view, our government and opposition do not show enough enthusiasm in this regard due to inherent political reasons. Although hundreds of people are forced to accept death due to insincere driving of the drivers, we do not have a strict law under which the driver can be brought under punishment. Whatever legal framework is there, there is serious lacking in the implementation of the provision of the law.
Considering the enormity of the situation, the government should respond affirmatively to this issue ignoring its political consequence. The government should bring all violators under the legal procedure through enacting strict laws and ensuring effective implementation of these provisions. If that can be done, the rate of road accident will certainly reduce. Only then, we can expect that the country will not lose another Rajib due to road accidents. And the family members of the victims of road accidents will not have to bear the awful memories throughout their life.
Dr. Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor at the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.