Vol. 5 Num 688 Sun. May 07, 2006  
Front Page

Terrible Travel
Road accidents claim 10 lives a day
Ignorance, cops-owners nexus bar justice

It was a big bang, but of the entirely opposite kind, which blotted out a family microcosmos from existence in the twinkling of an eye.

Last year, a speeding bus crashed headlong into Abdul Kader's car, killing his daughter, son, son's wife, and the driver on the spot, sparing a badly maimed Kader to mourn the dead.

"Within a moment, all happiness had gone out of my life," Kader whispers, as speaking still causes him excruciating pain due to the broken jaw. After several months of treatment in Singapore, he returned home just two weeks ago.

On that doomsday, Kader, a director of the non-government development agency Samata, was heading with his family members for his village home in Pabna. When their car was on Tangail Bypass, a bus going to the opposite direction at a breakneck speed suddenly veered and rammed into it.

In Kader's opinion, "It was entirely the bus driver's fault." But no one has been punished so far for the untimely deaths of four young people.

Thousands of others like Abdul Kader lose their dear ones in deadly road accidents every year in the country. With the number of vehicles increasing, the frequency of road mishaps and casualties are also on the rise, say experts, referring to official figures.

According to government statistics, on an average, road accidents claim more than 10 lives a day. The official figure of deaths in such accidents a year is about 4,000, while many more are injured. Road accidents also cause an annual loss of over Tk 5,000 crore to the economy.

But, experts reckon the actual frequency, casualties and economic loss in road mishaps are far more than the government records. "Even the government figures show a rising trend of accidents," notes Prof M Mazharul Hoque, director of Accident Research Centre (ARC) of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet).

Compared to three or less than three out of every 10,000 vehicles suffering accident a year in the developed countries, the figure is as high as 85.6 (for every 10,000 vehicles) in Bangladesh, shows the data of Road Safety Cell of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA).

Among a horde of factors, experts identify overloading and unfitness of vehicles, lack of awareness about road safety, and poor traffic management, law enforcement and training of drivers as the main causes of such a high rate of accidents.

"We provide the guidelines and inform the transport operators about the safety measures to reduce the number of accidents. But the police are responsible to ensure that those really are observed on the roads," says BRTA Director (Admin) M Shahidullah, adding, "We don't have the manpower to apprehend vehicles or check everyone's driving licence."

He also admits that, in most cases, the people responsible for accidents go unpunished.

Explaining the situation Shahidullah says, "The trial and punishment of a driver or someone else responsible for a road accident requires a lengthy investigative and judicial process. As most people know not the process so they don't go for it."

"Besides," he points out, "as this is Muslim-majority country, in most cases where the people killed in accidents are Muslims, relatives avoid, don't allow or even forcefully resist autopsy of the bodies, though it is essential for proving the guilt in the court."

The post-accident role of police typically goes against the interests of passengers and victims, some transport owners tells The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.

And why is it so? In response, one of them says, "If police can help us evade trial, they get money from us. So, they prefer to protect the vehicle owners from legal and financial troubles and penalties, and thereby to make a fast buck."

"We pay the police on a regular basis to safeguard our interests after accidents. The payment is made at a fixed rate per accident, unless it's too severe and the situation is beyond their control," a passenger coach owner claims.

He says, "If the driver kills anyone, the protection money is usually Tk 10,000."

If the driver can flee the accident spot quick enough, before the passengers, locals or law enforcers can catch him, he is saved -- rarely anything happens to him, another transport operator quips.

"But, if the bus or truck that met with the accident can't be evacuated from the spot before police arrive, we have to pay them to their satisfaction to take it away. Otherwise, they would call in a wrecker and we have to pay a lot for the towing service," he details the inner workings of the nexus between police and transport owners.