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  Volume 10 |Issue 44 | November 25, 2011 |


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Sometimes even law enforcers break the law.
Endangering the family. Photos: Amirul Rajiv

A Revision of Priorities


There is a fine line between cockiness and idiocy, which ceases to exist when it comes to an average Bangladeshi. Readers may be outraged by this generalisation, but be honest with yourself, and you will see evidence of a grievous lack of common sense in almost everyone, starting from those who claim they are doing to fantastic job running this country, to the beggars who think you'll sympathise with them as they attempt to break down your car windows, while trying to get your attention.

That being said let us address the latest issue of road accidents for which our communications minister is being abused (justifiably so) by the entire country. Official statistics of the BRTA state that road accidents claim about 12,000 lives in this country on average, every year, and are responsible for about 35,000 injuries-that we know of (because you see, our law enforcement officers are so busy fighting crime, the general people cannot seem to get a hold of them to report these accidents).

Despite this alarming rise in road accidents and the frantic search for a quick solution, those who are potential victims seem to have a carefree attitude regarding road safety. Among these cheerful, happy-go-lucky people are motorcyclists, who are so confident about their driving skills; they don't let simple matters like basic safety precautions slow them down.

“I am a very safe driver,” says Syed Ali (not his real name), “I have been driving this bike for twenty years and I have never had an accident. You don't need a helmet to avoid accidents, you just need to be smart.”

Many motorcyclists do not know that it is against the law not to wear helmets when driving. They are also
prone to taking unnecessary risks, Photo: Amirul Rajiv

After thousands of accidents and even more casualties, our wise authorities decided it was time to stop ignoring the situation (because it was just not going away) and show our tax paying citizens that they are pointing their fingers in the wrong direction. The communications minister isn't the main culprit of this catastrophe—turn those fingers right around and point them at yourselves, they said.

“Noone follows the rules,” says a traffic police officer, who wishes to remain unnamed, “We try our best to enforce them, but there are too many vehicles on the road and there aren't enough of us to keep an eye on everyone.”

On November 1 2010, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) with the aid of our law enforcement officers started a special drive against the violators of the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1983. They attempted to reinstate certain traffic rules that have been violated, probably since the time they had been established.

“The rules clearly state that there can only be two passengers on each motor cycle and they both have to wear helmets,” says Sergeant Tauheed, stationed at Panthapath, “ Drivers are not allowed to talk on cell phones, and they must have a valid license and the proper paperwork for their vehicles. We file cases against anyone who violates these rules, we have to be vigilant, hundreds of cases are being reported and I have filed several cases myself,” he claims, as he and two officers working under him watch a family of three drive away happily on a bike, the child in front on the father's lap and the mother sitting sideways, the father being the only one donning a helmet.

While the authorities claim that they have been filing hundreds of cases against violators, posting two or more officers at major traffic signals and junctions, and organising training programmes for drivers to ensure safety on the roads, the situation still leaves much to be desired.

“We don't have much of a choice,” says Iftekhar Hossain, who is on his way to a relative's house, on his bike, with his wife and two children. “We can't afford a car, and public transportation is unsafe for my children, I'm not worried about accidents, I drive safely,” he says.

While Hossain claims it is safer for his children to travel on his bike without helmets, than on say a rickshaw or a CNG, there are others who believe that wearing helmets may harm their little ones, “They are too heavy for them,” says Shamima Jabeen, “They'll hurt their necks if they wear them and travel on the uneven roads.”

Nazia Haque (not her real name), sits sideways on her husband's bike, but is not very pleased about it. “I know I'll feel safer if I sit properly, with one leg on each side, but it looks vulgar when I woman sits like that doesn't it? People will stare.”

Yet another clueless yet self-assured driver, Junaid Mazumdar says, “I didn't know it was against the law not to wear helmets. I wear mine because it looks cool. I don't bother when I have gel on my hair.”

“Besides, most cops will let you go if you give them a tip,” says his friend who wishes to remain unnamed. “I've paid Tk 1000 in the past and noone filed a case against me.”

While that thin line between overconfidence and stupidity has been completely obliterated by our citizens and authorities, another line has been crossed. The one between dim-witted and dangerous. As more people refuse to wear helmets, take their phone calls when they are off the roads, place social rules before safety regulations and ignore their duties as law enforcers, the death toll continues to rise.

This may fall on deaf ears, but once again, it must be said that safety precautions must never be taken lightly. Just because it hasn't happened to you in the past twenty years does not mean it will not in the future. Accidents don't always happen because of your own mistakes, there are others on the road with you, and they may not be as experienced or as careful as you are.

Saving on public transport, extra helmets and other trifling costs to ensure your child's future or simply choosing convenience over safety will not be of any use if that child happens to fly off that bike in the event of an accident.

“My husband and I had an accident last month while we were on his bike,” says Farhana Hossain, “The roads we were on were broken and uneven and my husband lost his balance, causing his bike to fall on one side, taking us with it. The bike is very heavy and when it fell on us, my husband broke his arm and I was badly bruised. If we hadn't worn our helmets that day, our skulls would have cracked from the impact of our sudden and forceful fall. I didn't always wear helmets when I rode with him, but I know better now, and I believe those helmets saved our lives that day.”

We can point fingers and hold the authorities responsible (because lord knows they deserve it) but before we do that we must look to ourselves and see if we have done everything possible no matter how bothersome or trivial it may seem, to make sure we have ensured our own and our family's safety because that is what should be on top of our list of priorities.

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