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Fury over ongoing carnage on Bangladeshi roads

With 300 dead in month since student protests, activists call on government and drivers to change mindset

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Fury over ongoing carnage on Bangladeshi roads

Students in Dhaka take part in a road safety protest on Aug. 1 but the carnage continues across Bangladesh. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

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At least 300 people have died in road accidents across Bangladesh in the month since student protests forced the government to promise measures to improve road safety.

In the worst accident, 15 people died after a speeding bus hit a low-speed "human hauler" public transport vehicle in Natore district on Aug. 25.

Among the dead was a mother and her two children belonging to Bangladesh Baptist Church Fellowship who were traveling to meet relatives during the Eid al-Adha holiday.  

On July 29, thousands of students began a march on the capital Dhaka to demand justice for two students killed by a reckless bus driver and a law to punish offenders.

The protests lasted a week, crippling public life in Dhaka and major cities and prompting the government to mull a strict road safety law and a crackdown on unfit vehicles and unlicensed drivers.

Activists say the road safety issue suffers from negligence from both the government and the public.

"We are not a law-abiding nation. The government is not serious about enforcing existing laws, while drivers, passengers and pedestrians all tend to disregard traffic rules. This mentality is the biggest driving factor behind road crashes and deaths," Apurbo Mrong, secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission in Mymensingh Diocese, told ucanews.com.

Mrong said the protest was a wake-up call for everyone to change and improve the situation.

"The road transport sector is dominated by a nexus of politically and financially influential people who get the benefit of impunity after crashes. Protesters wanted to change it, but everything is as usual. This can only change if the government is strict on road safety and people are aware about respecting laws," he added.   

Former film actor and prominent road safety campaigner Ilias Kanchan voiced similar concerns.

"The call for road safety is not just a movement, it's now a human right. The problem lies in not considering the issue seriously. Laws are not properly implemented, and it allows unfit vehicles to ply the roads, and poorly trained, often unlicensed drivers to operate vehicles, leading to crashes and deaths," said Kanchan, founder and director of Nirapad Sharak Chai (We Demand Safe Roads), advocacy group.

Kanchan founded the group in 1993 after the death of his wife in a crash. He quit the film industry and became the most vocal road safety campaigner in Bangladesh.

"Students realized and brought to the fore what we have been demanding for years. Law and punishment won't stop crashes and deaths on the road. It will require an awakening of public conscience. I am still hopeful that change will come one day," he said.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 20,000 road crashes occur in Bangladesh every year.

Since 1998, about 45,000 people have died in road crashes in Bangladesh, according to the Accident Research Institute at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

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