Road safety experts say the recent student protests demanding road safety are the outcome of these failures, since people continue to die in road accidents. And there is no solution in sight
A verdict by the High Court, in a 2011 road accident case, highlighted Shortcomings in implementing the Motor Vehicle Ordinance of 1983.
Renowned filmmaker Tareque Masud, and media personality Ashfaque Munier Mishuk, were killed in that accident on the Dhaka-Aricha Highway, in Manikganj.
Some of these shortcomings have been addressed in the new Road Transport Act. But some claim that the Act has loopholes and may even have regressed from the previous law.
Road safety experts say the recent student protests demanding road safety are the outcome of these failures, since people continue to die in road accidents. And there is no solution in sight.
The lawsuit and court verdict
The families of Tareque and Mishuk filed two separate cases in 2013 with the district and Motor Accident Claims Tribunal in Manikganj, seeking compensation.
A Manikganj court, in February last year, sentenced bus driver Jamir Hossain to life imprisonment in a case filed over the deaths. It also fined him Tk5,000 for culpable homicide, and ordered him two years’ imprisonment and Tk2,000 fine for causing damage.
Following separate petitions from Tareque and Mishuk’s families, the cases were transferred to the High court for hearings. The trial for Mishuk’s case is ongoing.
The High Court last year ordered the driver, insurance company, and bus owners to pay Tk4.62 crore to the family of Tareque Masud.
According to the verdict, Jamir will have to pay Tk30 lakh, insurance company Reliance Insurance Tk80,000 and three owners of the bus - Kashed Miah, Khokon Miah and Jahangir Kabir Tuhin – will have to pay Tk4,30,95,452 to the family.
Shortcomings of the law
Under the Motor Vehicle Ordinance of 1983, there should be a tribunal in every district to deal with compensation cases. But not every district has these tribunals.
In some districts, the tribunals are also inoperative.
The new Road Transport Act does not mention anything about district tribunals.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, barrister Sara Hossain explained that the new law was, “taking a major step backwards,” from the previous one— in terms of rights and remedies.
Following the 2011 accident, the government took initiative to rebuild the most dangerous portions of the Dhaka-Aricha Highway and install traffic warning signs along that route— and others.
In 2014, the government decided to curb accidents by remedying accident prone spots – known as ‘black spots’ – on the highways. The decision was informed by a five-year old (2009) study by the Accident Research Institute (ARI) of BUET.
“The government treated these black spots based on outdated data,” said ARI Assistant Professor Kazi Md Shifun Newaz.
He said the government had only acted based on the names of the locations, but not on the type of accidents that occurred at these spots.
Newaz said the government’s solution in most cases had just been to add road dividers on the highway and turn two-lane roads into four lanes—which do not address the issues that lead to accidents.
There has also been an effort to revamp the former Motor Vehicle Ordinance of 1983, and replace it with the Road Transport Act this year.
The draft of the law was prepared after thousands of students took to the streets demanding safer roads—after a speeding bus killed two college students in Dhaka.
Tareque Masud’s wife, Catherine Masud, told the Dhaka Tribune in a recent interview that some important aspects of road safety were covered in the new law.
She pointed out that the new law fails to address many critical issues, including a speedy trial mechanism and the establishment of a system for the adequate and prompt compensation of road crash victims and their families.
“It is also important to add here that there are some serious impediments to the challenge of improving road safety at the level of government action,” she added.
“In particular, there are major conflicts of interest in certain sectors of the government, where key officials in positions of responsibility and power also hold leadership positions in the nation’s transport sector unions.”
Provisions of the Road Transport Act
One provision of the new law fixes the minimum age and academic qualifications for obtaining a driver’s licence – one must pass grade VIII to be a driver, and class 5 to be a driver’s assistant. To obtain a professional driving licence, one must be at least 21years old.
The new law also includes a 12-point system for a driving licence. For each offence, a driver will lose one point from his/her licence. The licence will be cancelled if all 12 points are lost.
The authorities concerned can set the maximum number of vehicles a family or organization can use, and also decide on the economic life of the vehicles through gazette notifications.
They can also fix the working hours of drivers and helpers of: buses, trucks, covered vans, and other vehicles—which must be implemented by the transport owners. Failing to do so will lead to appropriate punishment under the new law.
Under the new law, a financial assistance fund will be created to provide compensation to victims of road accidents.
Moreover, in the event of an accident, a driver or helper will inform the nearby police station and hospital via a helpline. The Highway Police will have the helpline number for emergency response.