Published in The Daily Sun on Wednesday, 6 September 2017
Sadrul Hasan Mazumder, Programme Coordinator, Advocacy for Social Change, BRAC
Inclusion of road safety targets in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the middle of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-20 has reinforced the urgency and ambition of initiating reforms of legislation bringing discipline in the road and transport sector. SDG 11.2 calls to “provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons” by 2030.
The aspiration set by the SDGs now requires that Bangladesh government needs to intensify its efforts in coordinating road safety actions – be it the legislative reforms or ensuring effective enforcement of existing laws and policies. Given the demographic challenges and the standard of civic responsibilities, vibrant citizen’s engagement is required to get the legislation enforced effectively for greater social good.
Deaths and damages of properties caused by road crashes have become a daily and deadly phenomenon in Bangladesh, which has one of the worst crash rates in the world, at more than 60 per 10,000 registered motor vehicles. Study and researches explored multifaceted causes of road crashes ranging from population explosion, unplanned urbanisation, and tremendous growth of motorised as well as non-motorised and para-transit vehicles, which include but not limited to the engineering aspect of road construction, architecture of vehicles accelerated by mismanagement and politicisation of the entire road and transport sector.
Road crash, which is caused by human or mechanical failure, negligence, or a combination of many other unknown factors, should be dealt with the principles of prevention, attention and compensation. In any human attempt to reduce fatalities of road crash, realistic legislations and their effective enforcement are a must where citizens as road users have vital role to shoulder. During the pre-accident period prevention and attention are associated with the capacity and skill of concerned stakeholders where we do not have sufficient institutional arrangement or strength. Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), which is the sole government agency to look after the capacity, required accreditation and licensing of vehicles and operators notably lack skills and manpower to meet the rising demand of the road and transport sector.
During the post-accident period globally accepted ‘Golden Hour’–the first one hour after road crash is critical when early medical care might prevent fatalities or any dire consequences of the injury. But historically both the private and public health services providing agencies and institutions in South Asia including Bangladesh are negligent about providing emergency medical services to the accident victims. In addition, Good Samaritans have the fear of legal consequences, harassment, involvement in litigation and repeated visits to concerned police station. To bring changes in such inhuman practices, Good Samaritan law has been enacted on May 2015 following a directive of the Supreme Court in India which also has detailed out provisions making all public and private hospitals, clinics providing mandatory emergency medical services to the victims of road crash through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Responding to a Writ Petition of BLAST and Others, on 10 February 2016 the High Court division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has also issued ‘Rule Nisi’ asking Director General of Health Services & Secretary of Ministry of Health, Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges and Bangladesh Medical and Dental Council to pursue directions and framing guidelines making all public and private hospitals, clinics providing mandatory emergency medical services to the victims of any road crash. The High Court directive observed that ‘failure of the said agencies to ensure emergency medical services by hospitals and doctors for patients in a life threatening situation particularly following a road crash in violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Article 27, 31 and 32 of the Constitution, read with Articles 15(a) and 18 and 21’. Though the responding parties were supposed to take initiatives within four weeks of the issuing of the directives but the concerned authorities are yet to finalise any of these regulation or guideline. BRAC study pointed out that road crash fatalities are just not an inevitable concomitant of development, but such fatalities can be addressed and minimised through judicious and timely action.
Weak, inefficient and traditional investigation process of the road crashes, however, have been found as a hurdle to justice for road crash victims, which includes but not limited to compensation but also for their rehabilitation. Under the current arrangement investigation of road accidents lies to the police who investigate all forms of offences under the Code of Criminal Procedure but they are not provided with any special training on investigation of road crash incidences. Road safety experts and activists have been demanding for specialised road crash investigation mechanism with institutional capacity which is a must to fighting justice for the victims of road crash. For example, in the road crash that had caused the death of two of our golden boys- Tareque Masud and Ashfaque Munier Mishuk, we found that at the time of the accident it was raining heavily which, according to the road safety experts, was not the only reason for the collision. Dr. Md. Shamsul Hoque, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, who is also a road safety expert, analysed the accident and showed that neither the microbus nor the bus which collided head-on was solely liable, rather the accident was triggered by an easy bike. Traditional mind set of accusing the operators of the vehicles under collision has been researched out as the obstacle to proper investigation accelerating justice and providing immediate medical care to the victims, which contradicts with the jurisprudential issues of the proposed Road Transport (draft) Act 2017.
Current legislative initiative around road and transport merely focused on safety issues ignoring the economic potentials of the sector. BRAC study shows that in low and middle income countries cost of road traffic injuries lies between 1-2% of their GDP, which clearly suggests that country like Bangladesh should adopt immediate measures to reduce losses caused by road crash and keep pace with the nation’s transition to the middle income economy. World Bank in its latest study warned that if the transport sector cannot be managed lawfully, traffic congestion only in Dhaka city will take up 3.2 million working hours per day, which will cost the economy billions of dollars every year. Such losses will clearly hinder getting the benefits of nation’s growing GDP to reach out the poorest and vulnerable communities and obviously to meet the SDG targets.
The government has initiated legislative reforms since 2009 scrapping the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983, which includes proposal for Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (draft) Act 2015 framed for empowering the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and Road Transport (draft) Act 2017. Insights reflected in the reform proposal as of now seems unclear, shelving and not reflecting the aspirations of the citizens in general and of the road safety activists and experts in particular. Most importantly, such a slow progress of reforming road safety legislation clearly misses the constantly changing ground realities.
Precisely though the reform process includes all stakeholders seeking recommendations for updating the draft Act but the road safety activists felt ignored and are not sure whether the recommendations and views shared by them will ultimately be reflected during the passage of the Road Transport Act. To make the proposed Road Transport (draft) Act 2017 genuinely ground touching and reflective aspirations of all stakeholders the following issues need to be considered:
- Current reform initiatives of the road transport legislation should not only focus on road safety issues but also focus on economic potentials of the sector considering the demographic growth of the nation.
- To ensure effective enforcement of Road Transport (draft) Act 2017 enactment of a Good Samaritan Law and guideline for the emergency medical services agencies and institutions should be formulated at the shortest possible time.
- The National Road Safety Council (NRSC) should be made more functional having periodic interaction with the sub-national and regional road safety committees.
- An independent rigorous investigation mechanism needs to be introduced having expertise on engineering, legislative and enforcement aspects of road safety with representation from national and regional road safety committees.
- The Road Transport (draft) Act 2017 should take into considerations the needs of all road users when making policy decisions that impact road safety.
- The road safety legislation should clearly spell out the monitoring mechanism for speed control, fitness of the vehicles including installation of traffic signs and their management.