Bangladesh top court pulls for road safety

Orders govt to remove structures close to highways, amend rules to set SSC as minimum educational qualification for drivers

 

The High Court yesterday ordered the government to immediately remove all unauthorised structures within 10 metres of highways, restore visibility of motorists at blind curves, and install speed-limit signs to prevent road accidents.

 

The court asked the government to have the relevant rules amended in the Highways Act, 1994, as well, so that no structures could be built within 10 metres of highways.

 

It also asked the authorities concerned to build central reservations on highways and underpasses at places where they were needed.

 

Delivering the judgment on a writ petition, the court ordered the amendment of relevant rules to set secondary school certificate (SSC) as the minimum educational qualification for drivers and it would be effective after five years.

 

It asked for reasonably increasing the penalty for traffic rules violations under the Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983.

 

Even though amendment to the ordinance was underway, its progress has been rather slow.

 

The High Court verdict came at a time when the rising number of road crashes in the country had become a serious concern.

 

 

At least 21,000 lives are lost and thousands of people are injured on the roads every year, according to the latest report of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

 

The report said Bangladesh was among the 68 countries where road crashes had a rising trend but the government had not recognised the fact and seemed reluctant to take necessary steps to improve road safety.

 

In the past, the court had issued orders to prevent road accidents but those were not implemented due to negligence of the authorities concerned.

 

It yesterday ordered the government to implement all the 28 guidelines prepared by a seven-member expert committee formed under a court order to reduce road accidents and traffic jams, petitioner Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh's counsel Manzill Murshid told The Daily Star.  

 

As per the guidelines, no bazaar could be set up or commercial structures be built on or beside highways, and bus stops and bus lay-bys have to be built in a planned way.

 

Slow-speed vehicles would not ply alongside high-speed vehicles. Defective vehicles and passenger vehicles older than 20 years would not be allowed to use the highways, the guidelines said.

 

Giving police modern logistic equipment, building flyovers at crossroads and important intersections, designated places for pedestrian crossings, and increasing usage of railway and water routes were also asked for.

 

The expert committee also recommended at least five years' experience for drivers before they could get a professional licence to drive passenger vehicles.

 

The guidelines said modification of the structure of a vehicle could not be done without Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) approval.

 

Awareness and efficiency have to be increased by arranging training facilities for drivers and they would have to be given electronic driving licences, said the guidelines.

 

It recommended introducing point system on driving licenses.

 

 

The court yesterday asked the government to submit a report on the progress of the implementation of the directives by April 1 next year.

 

Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh submitted the petition on February 10, 2011, seeking necessary directives from the HC on the government to ensure proper road transport and traffic management after 11 people were killed in a road accident at Bhanga in Faridpur.

 

A microbus carrying the followers of then newly elected Awami League lawmaker Obaidul Moktadir Chowdhury had collided with a tanker. The lawmaker was unhurt.      

 

During the hearing on the writ petition, Manzill told the bench of Justice Zinat Ara and Justice AKM Shahidul Huq that failure of the road management system and lack of enforcement of law were costing lives.

 

Sometimes accidents happen on highways due to narrow stretches, which had shrunk as illegal bazaars had been set up there, he said.

 

Deputy Attorney General Rashed S Jahangir represented the government.

 

Transport expert Prof Shamsul Hoque of Buet's civil engineering department said there should be a target-oriented policy to reduce accidents.

 

Officials concerned must be held accountable if the target was not achieved, he said, adding that the situation would not improve if the problems with issuing licences, defective vehicles and unsafe vehicle modification were not solved.