Bangladesh's deadly roads bring students back onto streets

Fresh protests break out after student is run over while crossing the road in Dhaka
Bangladesh's deadly roads bring students back onto streets

Students take part in a street protest in Dhaka on Aug. 1, 2018. Road safety campaigners say the government is failing to implement road safety measures to address the country's road carnage. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

The death of a student run over by a bus has prompted fresh street protests in Dhaka, echoing earlier demonstrations that last year forced the Bangladeshi government to pass road safety laws that critics say have proved ineffective.

Thousands of school and university students have been protesting in the Bangladeshi capital following the March 19 death of Abrar Ahmed Chowdhury, 20.

Abrar was hit by a speeding bus while he was walking on a zebra crossing. The bus reportedly did not have a road permit.

Police have arrested the driver and the bus company’s registration has been cancelled. A court has already ordered the bus company to pay the victim’s family one million taka (US$ 11,859) as compensation.

Abrar was a campaigner for the Safe Road movement which sought to improve road safety in the country. Protests related to the campaign crippled Dhaka and other major cities in July-August last year.

The protests forced the passing of the Road Transport Act 2018, a relatively tough law that stipulates hefty punishments for violations of road rules and safety regulations. The law was passed in October but there has been little respite from fatal road accidents in the country where official estimates are much smaller than the up to 25,000 road deaths per year put forward by the World Health Organization.

“When a tragic accident occurs, the authorities take some quick actions to appease people and then forget it,” Father Anthony Sen, a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission, told ucanews.com.

“We have not seen the government doing enough to improve the attitudes and values of transport drivers and owners.” 

Government negligence and failure to implement road safety measures are to be blamed for fatalities on the roads, campaigners say.

“We have been demanding a complete ban on vehicles without proper safety certificates and on drivers without a driving license,” Illias Kanchan, a former film actor turned prominent road safety campaigner, told ucanews.com.

Kanchan — founder of Nirapad Sarak Chai (We Demand Safe Roads) — said he wanted strict enforcement of road rules and for violators to be punished. But he was not confident his demands would be met.

“Transport owners are politically influential, so the government fails to deal with their recklessness,” he said.

Kazi Shifun Newaz, associate professor at the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, reiterated similar concerns.

“The main problem is in the system. We seek immediate and quick solutions to problems instead of a systematic overhaul and long-term planning,” he said.  

“There is massive indiscipline on the roads and this must stop if we want to prevent deaths and anarchy on road.” 

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Khandaker Enayetullah, secretary of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said efforts are being made to improve road safety, including those aimed at improving people’s driving habits.

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