Bangladesh on Friday implemented a traffic law that was passed after tumultuous protests over the killings of two university students by a bus, but it took 14 months for the new rules to kick in because vehicle owners and transportation industry workers opposed them.
The Road Transport Act-2018 calls for a five-year sentence and/or a fine of 500,000 taka (U.S. $5,900) for a driver convicted of being responsible for a traffic death. The fine is 100 times greater than the maximum fine under the previous law.
Under the revamped law, those convicted of setting out to and killing others in a road accident can face the death penalty.
“The law has come into force today, Nov. 1, in line with the government decision,” Mahbub E. Rabbani, enforcement director of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), told BenarNews.
In addition, those driving without a proper license from BRTA can face a six-month sentence and/or a fine of 25,000 taka ($295). Any driver using a mobile phone while driving or chauffeurs who do not reserve seats for women and disabled persons could face a one-month sentence and/or a fine of 10,000 taka ($118).
Hundreds of thousands of students and others closed roads across the country to protest the July 29, 2018, deaths of the two students who were run over by a bus in Dhaka. The protesters cut off roads in the capital for seven consecutive days as they demanded safer roads, punishment for the bus driver and a tougher law for drivers who kill people.
2 million professional drivers unlicensed
On Sept. 19, 2018, parliament passed the Road Transport Act-2018, but its implementation was delayed by objections from drivers’ groups, according to officials.
Transportation workers staged several strikes and their union leaders met with the home minister and law minister on Sept. 25, 2019, to amend sections of the law. On Oct. 23, the government issued the official gazette, making the law effective on Nov. 1.
“We were against hurried implementation of the Road Transport Act,” Shajahan Khan, the executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, told BenarNews. “Everybody solely blames drivers for road accidents. But this is not true.”
Khan said faulty highway and road designs, poor road conditions, mechanical breakdowns, bad weather and poor knowledge of traffic rules are to blame for some accidents.
He said the tougher law could cause Bangladesh’s national transportation system to fall apart.
“Nearly half of the 4 million professional drivers have driver’s licenses. If the law is implemented, you will not have enough drivers to run millions of vehicles. The transportation system will collapse,” he said.
But a former BRTA director disagreed, saying the new law could have a positive effect. Humayun Rashid Khalifa said its implementation could bring discipline to the “unruly” transportation sector.
“Many transportation workers are reckless. Those responsible for reckless driving must be punished, but we have to give proper training to poor drivers so they will drive responsibly,” he said.
He also called for a campaign to inform pedestrians about how they can protect themselves along busy roadways because fatal accidents are common in Bangladesh.
Nearly 25,000 people died as a result of traffic accidents in Bangladesh in 2016, according to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization.