Poor road conditions, indiscipline in the road management system, and intense mental pressure provoke the drivers to take such risks that often cause accidents on the highways
As the bus headed towards Dhaka on Sunday night, a passenger suddenly shouted at the driver.
"Drive carefully. Do not play with the lives of passengers," he scolded the driver.
The passenger's outburst was justified. The bus had just overtaken a covered van on the western side of the Bangabandhu bridge, and narrowly avoided a collision with another bus coming from the opposite direction.
Our correspondent was also travelling on this bus all the way to Dhaka from Dinajpur. During a short break, he struck up a conversation with the driver, asking him about the situation on the highway.
"The dangerous overtaking is a very common scenario on the highway – so is the shouting of passengers," said Abdul Malik, driver of the Rahbar Paribahan bus.
Poor road conditions, indiscipline in the road management system, and intense mental pressure provoke the drivers to take such risks that often cause accidents on the highways, he explained.
"I drive between 26-30 hours from Dhaka to Dinajpur and vice versa. But I only get Tk1,200 for the whole trip. If I cannot reach on time, I miss the next trip – which takes a toll on my income," he added.
Although the condition of the 33km road from Hatikumrul to Bangabandhu bridge is not bad, indiscipline and indifference of the road management authorities are evident.
On a national highway, there should have been clear traffic signs, and a specific lane for low-speed vehicles such as trucks, covered vans and local buses.
But very few traffic signs were visible on this road. The low-speed vehicles were seen plying the highway haphazardly. Even some three-wheelers, which are not allowed to drive on highways, were also seen on the road.
The road approaching Sirajganj town crisscrosses the highway at Sayedabad – a point very prone to accidents. Four years ago, a fatal accident took place at this point, leaving seven people dead and injuring many others.
"In the absence of proper supervision, minor accidents occur very frequently at this point," said a local named Mohammad Hanif, who had joined the conversation.
"When any accident occurs, traffic police play a very active role for the next three to four days," he said, adding "They take initiatives to prevent three-wheelers and all kinds of slow-moving vehicles from traveling on the road."
But things return to normal after a few days, Hanif told The Business Standard.
During the journey to Dhaka, many prohibited vehicles were seen running on the road.
From Elenga to Chandra, the 70km Dhaka-Tangail highway was also seen in a very good condition, as the construction of the four-lane project nears completion.
Though the traffic authorities have imposed a speed limit of 80km per hour, vehicles were seen driving at over 100km per hour in a bid to reach their destinations on time.
The Dhaka-Tangail highway has a specific lane for low-speed vehicles, but none of the vehicles stuck to their designated lanes.
At four to five road construction sites, the vehicles had to change their designated lanes. But there were no signs – apart from a few pillars – to guide the vehicles along the way.
Earlier, our correspondent had travelled to Bogura from Dhaka on Friday. During that journey, he saw vehicles face most difficulties at the 26km Baipail-Abdullahpur stretch of the Dhaka-Tangail highway.
Here, all modes of transport drive recklessly, disregarding all rules and regulations.
Three-wheelers, human haulers and local buses were seen plying the road, stopping at random points and picking up and letting off passengers. These vehicles were seen changing lanes frequently, posing a risk of accident at any moment.
During a break in Sirajganj, our correspondent spoke to some drivers at a restaurant.
Nur Islam, a driver of Ekota Paribahan, said, "I always have to be alert as I have no clue when these vehicles will stop or change lanes. I cannot drive at speeds higher than 15-20 km per hour, and always run the risk of getting into an accident while crossing this stretch.''
However, while talking to this correspondent, some highway drivers said that their mental health is also responsible for accidents.
Another driver of the Dhaka-Bogura route said each day he starts from Dhaka at 12 noon and reaches Bogura at around 6pm.
After two-three hours of rest, he then starts for Dhaka and reaches the capital at around 5am. He then sleeps for about three-four hours. This is his daily routine.
"If I do not drive, I will not make any money,'' he said, adding, "If we get recruitment cards and get a monthly salary, we will then get the opportunity of resting properly, and therefore driving calmly.''
According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, the frequency of road accidents is increasing day by day.
From July 2018 to June 2019, a total of 3,131 accidents occurred across the country, leaving 3,192 people dead and injuring 2,962 others.
During the same period a year before, 2,498 accidents took place, claiming 2,513 lives and injuring 1,876.
The figures indicate that the number of accidents have increased by 25 percent in the last one year, fatalities by 27 percent and the number of injured by 58 percent.