Photos: Yamin Tauseef Jahangir
It was supposed to be his first day at university. Only a few days ago the young man came to Dhaka from a distant part of the country. He had dreams of achieving a degree and choosing good career in this ruthlessly competitive city. The father of this optimistic young man, a village tailor had invested the last penny of his savings to get his son admitted to an expensive private university in Dhaka with the hope that his son would be the ultimate support for his parents at their old age. Little did anyone know that all the dreams were about to be crushed by the wheels of a speeding bus. The boy was run over by a murderous vehicle while crossing one of the deadly roads of Dhaka city. All of the potentials of promising youth, all hopes of his poor parents was destroyed in the blink of an eye because of reckless driving. Following the incident, angry mob wrecked vehicles and barricaded roads causing severe traffic jam for several hours. The killer driver ran away from the spot. The news of the young man's death found its way into national dailies for a couple of days and then everybody forgot about him. And events like this are happening repeatedly.
The story above is the depiction of a true incident that took place a year ago. However there was no notable progress on the issue of road safety since then. In recent times death counts on busy city roads, especially the number of students from different educational institutions run down by speedy vehicles have increased by a great number. The recent death of Billal Hossain, a Dhaka University student who was hit by a bus in front of the Shahjalal International Airport, only give evidence to how dangerous the city's roads have become. As more and more reckless drivers with their misfit vehicles are being added to the streets and with a rapidly increasing population, the dreadful accidents have become an everyday affair in our city life. The same day Billal lost his life, another teenage girl named Rokhsana Parvin, an HSC graduate lost her life when heading towards a coaching centre as a bus knocked over her CNG driven three-wheeler at Halishahar in Chittagong.
The facts which are responsible for such horrific tragedies are manifold. First of all it is the recklessness of armature and ignorant drivers who have little or no knowledge of traffic rules. Lack of walking space, inadequate road space and the absence of enforcement of traffic rules are also responsible. Lack of expert engineering in designing roads, intersections and overrides is also to blame. The ignorance and unwillingness of city people to abide by the proper pedestrian behaviour, like using the foot overbridge and the traffic signals can also contribute to road accidents.
The death of every student sparks off violent reaction within the student community. In the recent incident of Billal's accident the DU students wrecked vehicles and barricaded roads From Shahbagh leading to the DU Campus and Nilkhet. In Chiitagong following Rokhasana's death the angry mob streamed out and blocked the highway. Later police intervened to disperse the public from the busy road. The two events seems identical and so does the response of the fuming public. As Pavel a DU student while participating a human chain in the protest of Billal's death opined, “Every death of student strike violence between the students of a particular school, college or University and the police force. But we do not get any sustainable solution as responsible authorities never fully implement the measures that can curb these deaths.”
Although this over bridge is made soon after the death of a student at Mohakhali, it is still not being used that often for crossing the street
In almost every road accident case the driver tries to run away from the spot as early as possible as the angry mob is always ready to beat up the drivers without considering the real cause of the accident. There are many cases where an accused driver killed and injured more people when he was actually running away from an accident spot. While asked that why do students always beat up drivers and vandalise general people's car following any road accident, Rana a student attached in Surja Sen hall, DU explains the violence as the most powerful tool to draw attention of the responsible authority. “In this country nobody will listen to you if you try to draw the attention of the government or other concerned authorities in a decent way. The vandalism is the consequence of people's frustration and anger because of the failure of the authority to restrain such avoidable killings” says Rana. However there are students of opposite perception like Esha from the department of Civil Engineering, BUET as she says, “violation following any road accident is a response only to the symptoms but not to the root cause. To stop these deaths in reality, students should develop a social movement which will compel the government agencies to take stern actions against the criminals responsible for such deaths and to wipe out the faults in city's road transport system.”
Dr. Prof. Md. Shamsul Haque explains to Star Campus the reasons behind
the poor traffic controlling system and the problems regarding safety
|Vehicles usually block the pathway for pedestrians to cross the road even though the sign is there
Badshah a bus driver of a private bus company that runs between Uttara and Ajimpur identifies what he believes as the real cause of accidents. Badshah admits that most of the road accidents occur because of reckless driving of amateur drivers. According to Badshah, nowadays majority of the bus drivers in Dhaka roads are actually helper turned drivers. They have little experience of driving. Most of them know nothing about traffic rules. Many of them carry fake license and the vehicles they drive most often lack necessary documents like fitness certificate, route permit etc. These amateur drivers lack idea about the distance that should be kept between the vehicles on road. They also have a tendency to overtake other buses. The speedy buses run by these unskilled drivers get into race on the middle of the roads which often cause fatal accidents as the drivers lose control. Badshah also adds that many vehicles lack necessary route permit and fitness certificate. However, Badshah insists that both drivers and pedestrians are to blame. “Every driver tries his best to avoid an accident but it is the unruly behaviour of the pedestrians at streets that often makes a collision inescapable”. Public seems to have no attention about traffic signals while crossing roads. Only a few of them actually use over-bridge and most often they try to cross the roads by running from any point which make drivers confused.
Practical experience support Badsha's perception. At Shahbagh intersection one of the city's most busy roads people are seen to trying to cross the roads without paying any attention to the traffic signals. Though the light turned from red to green people gather on the middle of the road trying to cross the road in a group while speedy vehicles were passing by their side. “Vehicles have to confined in huge traffic jam before every traffic jam so when finally the green light is on the drivers tend to run very fast but as pedestrians always try to cross road ignoring any signal, it increases the probability of fatal accidents” says a traffic sergeant on duty at the Shahbagh Intersection.
|The bus counters do not always follow the law and set up their own stations usually at chaotic locations. The authority often fails to take actions against them
In an interview with the Star Campus, Professor Md. Shamsul Hoque, Director of Accident Research Institute, BUET points out the root causes of frequent fatal accidents. According to Dr Hoque any gruesome accident is the outcome of a chain of events. Most of the time, it is the rush hour obsession of both the driver and pedestrians that cause serious road accidents. People try to make a shortcut by crossing the busy roads from anywhere they find a gap and the inexperienced drivers who tend to drive faster to get more passengers get confused and can't manage to escape collision. Dr hoque also blame the lack of proper planning in designing a suitable public transport system in a mega city like Dhaka. “Right now we actually don't have any proper public transport system in Dhaka. If buses from several small companies operate in the same corridor at the pick time of the day they always get into a competition of speedy driving to get more passengers which is one of the main reasons behind fatal accidents” says Dr. Hoque. According to Dr. Hoque the location of educational institutions just next to the busiest roads of the city is another big reason for the dreadful statistics of
While many public universities provide their own buses some raise questions regarding the responsibilities of the private education institutions
student deaths by road accidents. Dr Hoque observes that it is the juvenile tendency of the students that they are less careful about traffic rules. Especially the students of college and universities often grow a sense of power among them if they have institutions just by the roads and show less respect to the traffic rules that is a prime reason of road accidents which often leads to violent clash between bus owners and the student community. “Schools, Colleges and Universities need to be situated inside the community area where students can reach by the pathway without crossing any busy streets” opines Dr. Shamsul Hoque. However, he acknowledged that on the face of a burgeoning population in Dhaka it is quite impossible to move the educational institutions to alternative locations. Dr Hoque recommends that the schools should employ 'lollipop warden' a person who will help students to cross the roads in front of the schools safely abiding by the traffic rules. Teachers should inform students about the necessary traffic rules in the school assembly so they can develop consciousness about road safety from childhood. Through research conducted by the Accident Research Institute, BUET it has been revealed that the lack of proper engineering skills in designing roads and intersections is one of the major cause behind fatal accidents. Dr.Shamsul Hoque suggests that if a three E application which is Engineering, Education and Enforcement can be properly implemented the rate of accidents will certainly decrease. Government agencies responsible for the supervision of vehicular movement and road safety should work more sincerely to lessen such avoidable killings. Dr. Shamsul Hoque opines, “If you have good plan it can bring durable solution”.
Jaywalking is a regular scenario since poor engineering methods does not allow voluntary cooperation of students (left) while bus stops are sometimes occupied by other vehicles as there is no monitoring (right).
Dr. Saleh Uddin the Additional Executive Director of Dhaka Transport Coordination Board talks about Star Campus about the problems and plans to bring an end to chaotic situations in Dhaka Streets. The main problem lies in the absence of coordination among the government agencies who are concerned with the issue of road safety. However Dr. Saleh Uddin tells about the plans to facilitate students with special bus service that will serve students at every major route of the city.
The condition of footpath and traffic signaling will also be developed to give the students to provide students with direct access to their institutions. “Road accidents are like murder case. One of the major causes of repetition of fatal accidents is that over the years the killer drivers have grown a sense of immunity that no matter whatever he did on roads ultimately he should be saved by his influential owner. To wipe out this sense the law enforcement agencies of the government need to work more transparently by ensuring exemplary punishment for these culprits.” says Ilias Kanchan a famous actor and also the founder of the 'Safe roads movement'. “We are campaigning on the issue of road safety for almost 17 years. We have pointed 42 accident prone locations within Dhaka city and informed the concerned government agencies. But we are seeing more and more roadkills at those very points because lack of any effective measures taken by the government agencies to curb accidents” says the popular public figure. “We need to be more conscious about traffic rules and to strengthen a social movement to pressurise the agencies to take stern action against unruly behaviour of the bus or truck drivers and their influential owners” adds Ilias Kanchan.
The death of every student by a road accident causes lots of pain and outcry among his or her teachers and classmates. But with the passage of time everybody forgets about it and this kind deaths occur again and again. In the Department of Sociology, DU the teachers and students of recently deceased Billal Hussain, put a picture of Billal on display under which they wrote “Pictures do not complain but open the doors of recollection silently”.We need to understand unless we become conscious about our safety on roads and the vehicles we drive these accidents will remain a common phenomenon. It is high time that the government agencies take responsibility for safety on roads. The general people should also start to work together to stop the row of deaths immediately.