There is a severe lack of discipline on our roads
Last Tuesday, January 21, I travelled to the Purbani International Hotel to commemorate the day on which, in 1972, I first arrived in Dacca (Dhaka) after driving overland in a Land Rover from Calcutta (Kolkata).
It may be 48 years later, but the memories are still fresh in my ageing mind.
In 1972, on that day, when it was approaching midnight on January 21, not knowing that a night curfew was in force, we had been stopped near the old airport by the security forces who then very kindly escorted us to the hotel.
The distance from the old airport to the hotel took less than 15 minutes. This week I travelled from my flat in Banani, spent about 30 minutes at the hotel and returned to Banani. It took me a total of four hours by cars provided by Uber.
Admittedly, at least for a temporary period, the severity of the traffic jams are compounded by all the work being undertaken for the mass transit schemes, but the experience for me was how easy it is to lose half a day in traffic jams.
However, it gave me a lot of time to observe again how undisciplined and chaotic the traffic is and how most of the drivers are very impatient and angry.
It also appears that traffic police have completely given up on trying to educate or discipline drivers, most of whom clearly have no road sense at all and appear to have never heard of a “highway code.”
Equally undisciplined are the pedestrians, many of whom should know better and deserve to be punished, too.
They are not prepared to wait for a break in the traffic before crossing the road. They just “hope for the best” and walk out, waving the traffic to stop.
However, on the other side of the coin, as a daily pedestrian in the Banani/Gulshan area, I know how dangerous it is because there is always traffic driving on the wrong side of the road, and bicycles and motorbikes believe that they can drive at any time, in any direction, and do not need to follow the red traffic light or the policeman’s “stop” signal.
It is difficult to know where to begin to bring some order to the behaviour of drivers and pedestrians.
The first place to start is at home and at primary schools and to realize that it is not only in urban areas that there is danger. In the rural areas, it is never too early to teach children swimming and to alert them about the danger of water bodies and rivers and possible drowning.
I believe, however, that an effective and “quick fix” might be possible if the traffic discipline that is obvious and successful in cantonment areas be brought into other parts of Dhaka city.
Surely, that is possible. It should, I believe, at least be tried. There is nothing to lose and so much to gain.
Over many years, I have met many police officers who have tried in their own way to make sure that road traffic rules are followed in their area of jurisdiction.
I was pleasantly surprised some years ago in Rowmari in Kurigram District. The officer in charge, a woman, had made it mandatory that all motorbike riders must wear helmets.
Everyone was following the instructions; in fact, they were afraid of being arrested. It was most impressive.
That contrasts with the ride-share motorbike driver who I challenged recently here in Dhaka: “Why are you not using your helmet?” I asked.
Back came the reply, “Oh, it is after 10pm, so the police will not stop me.”
Another aspect which is not being addressed is that vehicles, particularly buses, which are completely out of order and unsafe, have not been banned and taken off the road.
These vehicles, which would fail any fitness test, remain vehicles of “death on wheels.” It would appear that the brave student movements of July/August 2018 have been forgotten.
If that is so, it is very sad indeed.
It is a new decade. Why can’t we all join hands to make Bangladesh a safer and more disciplined place? Mindsets can change, and must change.
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.