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Offline Badshah Mamun

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Seventy five years of expectation for a good traffic law

Bangladesh is a riverine country having opportunity of low cost easy transport system but shift of policy toward road transport is not hard to understand. The road transport and traffic system over a period of time has assumed a monumental importance in economic welfare of the country. An unplanned growth of the sector, poor road condition and excessive use has already led the sector to a disaster.
The commercial production of motor vehicle started in 1908 and the British rulers enacted Motor Vehicles Act within 6 years in 1914. The law became obsolete and redundant within next 25 years and the British rulers replaced with new law --- the Motor Vehicle Act, 1939. It had its name changed for three times --- East Pakistan Motor Vehicles Act 1939 (1947); The Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 (1972) and Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983 (MVO 1983) --- but insignificant changes in structure have made it an ineffective law which can hardly be regulated in present condition. 

The technological developments and demands are changing very fast but the law could not be changed very often. Therefore provisions of the law have to be such that these should be able to address the present and foreseeable future road traffic regulation needs, but the MVO, 1983 is very rigid, which is about 70 years old and thus has become obsolete. The regulatory body had been given the responsibility of planning, and the executive authority of implementing it in transport sector like many other regulating agencies in Bangladesh. But they became unsuccessful like other regulators in both policy making and implementing authority.

The existing law has no provision to regulate manufacturing and assembling of vehicles. It has no provision authorizing the regulatory body --- Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) --- regarding issuing of driving licence, procedure for issue and renewal of licence. The procedure of registration marks, number plates are not in conformity with the law. The MVO, 1983 originally regulated motorized vehicles only, but not non-motorized and gas driven vehicles, and even pedestrians. The gas-fuel and battery-powered engines are not yet incorporated in the law, and the issue of registration and fitness certificates to CNG- and battery-powered vehicles are beyond jurisdiction of the law.

The BRTA has no standard of compliance about carbon emission, legal provision for ordering phasing-out of vehicles or fixing tenure limit of vehicles etc. The regulation and certain actions of the BRTA are contrary to the legal provisions. The MVO 1983 has no relevance to the sector it is intended to regulate.

The government seems to have realized it more recently. A World Bank funded 'Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) Project' was approved by the government to revise the act but the expert committee recommended and drafted a new law --- 'Road transport & Traffic Act, 2011 (RTTA Act, 2011) --- that still remains pending for final approval of the Ministry of Communication.

The proposed RTTA Act, 2011 provides the necessary regulatory provisions to include all road users. It has provisions of some shared responsibilities with local government. The RTTA empowers the local government organizations to prepare and enforce laws on these subjects. Provisions have been made to provide legal backing for the preparation and use of the Highway Code and the Traffic Sign Manual. Besides, elaborate legal provisions have been made to control the traffic on the highway to ensure efficient and smooth flow of traffic.

The proposed law has new clauses of pedestrians on the roads or highways where a footpath is ensured and its use is practicable. It shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway. Every pedestrian walking along and upon a road or a highway, shall make use of the footpath while proceeding along, and when there is no footpath available, shall use the shoulder or right hand edge of the road way facing oncoming traffic. Where neither a footpath nor a shoulder is available, any pedestrian walking along and upon a road or highway shall walk as near as practicable to an outside edge of the roadway, and if on a two-way road, shall walk only on the right side of the roadway.

Any person on foot, who without just cause or reasonable excuse fails to make use of a pedestrian crossing or an overbridge or an underpass, where there is one, while crossing the carriageway or highway, shall be guilty of an offence.

The  schedule of 'on spot fines' as given in the MVO, 1983 has been omitted from the new law and proposed to be in the Rule making power of the Government. Offences of the schedule are very minor in nature and not exceeding few hundred Taka worth fine. Moreover, the offence may increase or change due to introduction of new technologies, traffic control procedures and methods. Therefore, it is appropriate not to include it in the proposed RTTA but to make it part of the Rules of regulating authority. In future it will become very easy to make the fines appropriate with economy and value of currency with the changed penalty unit value by Gazette notification.
Provisions have also been kept in the RTTA to ensure manufacturers, assemblers and dealers obligations and buyers privileges.

Provisions also provide some specific obligations for drivers with regard to road accidents, and accident investigation has been made a requirement. Law shall have restriction on removal of vehicles involved in accident. Provisions have also been made for mandatory use of helmets and seat belts and use of mobile telephone and ear plugs has been barred. There is a requirement of additional drivers and attendants in driving or attending a heavy or a light locomotive, or a vehicle providing service at night. The driver and, in certain cases, owner of vehicles shall pay compensation in case of causing motor accident.

The Government or the regulating authority shall maintain or, shall create a fund to be maintained, to indemnify the compensation in respect of the death of, or grievous injury or non-grievous injury involving treatment in a hospital of any person as an in-patient, resulting from hit and run motor accidents.

The silent features of traffic and safety related Provisions for speed limit based on vehicle strengthened with national and local speed limits. A new provisions include unobstructed traffic flow and parking on payment. The Main roads have been replaced by Arterial Roads based on traffic engineering Consideration. The proposed law replaced the provisions of motor vehicle drivers to obey mandatory traffic signs with provision for all road users to obey traffic directions. A new provision for lane discipline, rights of emergency vehicle, restriction on use of mobile phone and ear plugs, pedestrian crossing, duty of the driver and pedestrian; obligation of non motorized vehicles, etc. The law shall have provision for use of approved helmet and punishment for non use and fitting and wearing of seat belts compulsory with provisions for punishment.

Punishment is awarded with the objective of meting out justice to a victim and uses it as a tool for deterrence. Justice to both the victim and offender needs to be ensured and a balance between the two has to be established. At the same time it has to be used as an effective deterrence.

The draft-law defined 'road' as any highway or any other road or street to which the public has access, and includes a private road or driveway, and flyovers, bridges, culverts, tunnels, footpath, lay-bys, road dividers, shoulders, terminals (interchanges), ferry facilities, overpasses, underpasses, approaches, entrance and exit ramps, toll plazas, service areas, diversion road and other structures and fixtures to fully effect its use
Provisions for a planning and research organization suggested for Transport Research Laboratory or Road Transport Institute has been suggested in the RTTA.

The law has a landmark suggestion to provide greater regulatory control on the possession of a motor vehicle by a citizen. The provisions shall make it a mandatory requirement for a citizen to obtain a Government authorization to possess motor vehicles.

Unfortunately such an updated and unique draft law is pending for final clearance from Ministry of Communication since 2011 due to objection from different stakeholders. The association of drivers don't like the provision of so much responsibility on drivers, the safe road movement organizations demand death punishment of driver for death due to motor crush either accident or negligence and some of insiders in government raised silent objection to the mandatory permission for purchase of vehicle. They prefer to keep provision of purchasing cars in disguise under others' name.

The nation deserves a modern and effective law after 75 years since 1939 and just after one century of the first law of the land enacted in 1914.

Writer: MS Siddiqui, Legal Economist (E-mail:

Md. Abdullah-Al-Mamun (Badshah)
Assistant Director, Daffodil International University