Road safety is increasingly being recognized as a priority national agenda. While some of the problems are entrenched, the challenge lies in developing a realistic vision of progress on improving road safety. According to Shipping and Communication Reporters Forum (SCRF), a platform of journalists, prepared the report based on news carried by 22 national dailies, 10 regional newspapers and eight online news portals and news agencies, the said report stated that at least 2,329 people, including 291 women and 381 children, were killed and 4,361 others injured in 2,159 road accidents across Bangladesh in the January to June of 2019.

The long awaited Road Transport Act that looked like a potential game changer in the country's transportation sector. Following the countrywide student outrage protesting road anarchy, the Road Transport Act (RTA) 2018 was passed in parliament in mid-September last year. The gazette was published on October 8, 2018 and the Act was effective on October 1, 2019 after almost one year.

This is a detail law which regulates and ensures the road safety and transport matters. The enactment of this Act is a good achievement of the present Government to cover various issues in a framework on road safety though there are some drawback discussions too. Under now defunct the Motor Vehicles (MV) Ordinance, 1983, the highest punishment for traffic law violation is two years' imprisonment, while the minimum jail term is one month. The maximum fine is Tk5,000 and the minimum Tk100. Under the Road Transport Act (RTA), 2018 the maximum fine is as much as Tk5 lakh and the minimum fine is Tk5,000. For road accident death and severe injury, the punishment can be five years even can be tried as murder case.

The RTA-2018 covers the common reasons of accidents with severe penalty in an excellent shape of punishment. The Act contains 126 sections whereas chapter 11 and sections 66-106 deal with Offence, Trial and Punishment. Sections 4-51 provide the detail guidelines, legal statements and discussion on the road safety which to be followed to abide by the law. Section 49 of the Act deals with the general instructions for the motor vehicles to be obliged and this section has two separate parts of instructions.

The Act introduces some innovative and better practices in the law. Sections 14 and 15 provide that the conductor of the bus must have license and the owner of the vehicle has to appoint him. The Act makes mandatory to show the chart of fare in the vehicle and prohibits for parking in the restricted area. It also introduces as offence to occupy the land of government alongside the road illegally. It specifically penalizes any demand or collection of money from the vehicle without Government authority and the said charge will be collected only at the specified terminal as per section 38 and for violation of this law, the offence will be considered as extortion according to the Penal Code 1860 as per section 83. The Act also criminalizes the sound and environment pollution as offence in the sections 88 and 89 with imprisonment and fine.

It is suffice that section 95 postulates as per section 62 that if any accident is occurred, the driver, conductor and the representative of the owner of vehicle shall inform the local police station, hospital and fire service to rescue the victims. Section 99 of the Act covers the abetment, conspiracy and instigation and it will be regarded as offence who will be given punishment as like principal accused. Section 100 is also a core one which states that if anyone commits the offence for more than one time, he will get double punishment for such offence. Section 106 deals with the provision for company and the company and its owner, directors, officers, managers and secretary will have the liability and will face the legal action according to this Act. Basically sections 95, 99 and 106 extend the legal capacity to be taken action against the owner of vehicle which is very important to comply this law.

Point cutting system of the drivers is the innovative approach of this Act to make drivers as accountable and conscious. According to the new law, a driving license will contain 12 points. A driver will lose one point for each offence. A driver's license will be cancelled if they lose all 12 points for committing offences like for illegal commercial use of vehicle, not showing the chart of fare, fault in meter or demand additional fare, violation of traffic sign and indication, over-loaded goods carrying (two points), not using a seat belt, using mobile phone while driving and so on. The concern sections are 79, 80, 81, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92 and 95 of the Act.

In this Act, the most desired provision is section 105 of the Act provides a holistic provision regarding the offence about accidents. Section 105 of the act says no matter what this Act contains, if anybody gets seriously injured or killed in a motor vehicle-related accident, it would be considered an offence under the relevant sections of the Penal Code-1860. However, no matter what section 304(B) of the Penal Code contains, if anybody causes accident by reckless and negligent driving, and kills or injures someone severely, such person would face a maximum sentence of five years in jail or fine or both, reads section 105 of the RTA. The offences that fall under section 105 of the act are non-bailable.

Now the RTA 2018 extends the punishment of section 304B of the penal code. The case will be filed under the relevant sections of the Penal Code read with section 105 of the RTA and the court will decide the punishment of section 304B of the Penal Code read with section 105 of the RTA. Section 105 of the RTA will be the basis of the punishment for negligent and rush driving who commits severe injury and killing anyone. In the language of section 105 of the RTA, there is chance to file the case and trial under section 302 of the Penal Code if the investigation finds the offence was planned and intentional murder in the guise of accident. The section mandates that for accident, the relevant section of Penal Code will be applicable in case of investigation and trial.

In this whole Act, there is no provision regarding the minimum punishment or fine. The maximum punishment is stated here only. All offences are cognizable and the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 will be applicable for investigation and trial. Only sections 84, 98 and 105 of the RTA which deal with for technical disorder of vehicle, over-loading accident and severe injury or murder in road accident are non-bailable offence. The rest of the offences are bailable in the Act. Sections 66, 72, 75, 87, 89 and 92 are compoundable offences and the police officer can impose fine and dispose of the offences at the spot and later on in their offices.

Chapter 9 of the Act 2018 which deals with compensation claims for road deaths and injuries. It can be said that the new law arguably leaves victims in a worse off situation than the Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983 Ordinance. Chapter 9 of the 2018 Act (deals with compensation) replaces a road accident victim's right to sue motor vehicle owners for compensation before a tribunal with the right to apply for financial aid from a rather charitable perspective. This Act nullifies the operation of compensation liability on the motor vehicle owner whose employee causes a fatal road accident or injury in any given case.

The victim family of the accident can apply for aid and file review petition for aid to the Trustee Board within 30 days under section 61 (1) of the RTA and then dissatisfied, they can file appeal to the Government within 30 days under section 61(2). The victim family can file complain to the Arbitrator against the decision of the Government and trustee board under section 61(3) of the Act and the decision of the Arbitrator will be final and mandatory on the both parties. However the procedure to apply and execution process will be final in the Rule. In this Act there is no detail information and guideline about the appointment of Arbitrator even who will be Arbitrator that is also absent. For public confidence and trust, the Arbitrator should be appointed from the senior officer of Bangladesh Judicial Service in consultation with the Supreme Court.

The challenge for implementation of this law is enforcement and public awareness. In this Act, the responsibilities towards to BRTA and police are core and cornerstone to get the road safety. The governance of both authorities is questionable to the people. Their corruption and mismanagement should be addressed properly to enforce the Act. The capacity of BRTA offices and Police should be enhanced to cope with the demand. The Rule under this Act is the loadstar to implement in practice. There is a number of sections which totally depend on the provision and procedure of the Rule. The Rule of the RTA should be finalized as early as possible.

The Writer is a member of Bangladesh Judicial Service and Senior Judicial Magistrate, Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Feni.

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