While the law clamps down harshly on driving without a licence and flouting traffic rules, it also has provisions that take care of the wellbeing of the drivers
How does Jahangir Alam feel about the new road safety law that is so vehemently opposed by the transport workers?
If you do not remember Jahangir, let us refresh our memory.
Jahangir had spent 18 years driving buses on long-haul routes before he decided not to get behind the wheel ever again following his daughter's death in a road accident last year.
His daughter Dia Khanam Mim, an eleventh-grader at Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment School and College, was killed after being hit by two racing buses on Airport Road in Dhaka.
The incident sparked days of massive student protests demanding road safety. Consequently, the government enacted a road safety law.
Jahangir feels it is not the drivers who are always guilty when someone dies in a road accident. According to him, there are many factors that have corrupted the transport sector and today's non-functioning transport system is just "what we see as a result".
He feels that transport workers have misunderstood the Road Transport Act 2018.
While the law clamps down harshly on driving without a licence and flouting traffic rules, it also has provisions that take care of the wellbeing of the drivers.
"It [the law] requires the owners of public transports to issue appointment letters to drivers. This provision will entitle the drivers to a monthly pay," Jahangir told The Business Standard.
As opposed to that, drivers of vehicles, especially those plying in cities, including Dhaka, are subjected to a contract of daily payment. For example, a driver might be asked to pay Tk3,000 at the end of the day to the bus owner and then he sees in dismay the remaining cash dissipating after bearing the maintenance cost.
Such practices exert pressure on drivers, which is why "we see them chasing down each other on roads for more passengers", Jahangir said sitting on a bench outside his small tin-roofed restaurant set up on a strip of land wedged between Mahakhali canal and a petrol pump.
That was exactly what happened on July 29 last year when two buses of Jabal-e-Noor Paribahan tried to overtake one another on the Zillur Rahman flyover of the Airport road. They knocked over two college students, including Jahangir's daughter Dia Khanam Mim, at the end of the ramp as drivers lost control over the vehicles.
The incident sparked outpouring of students on Dhaka streets demanding road safety and higher punishment for reckless driving.
Jahangir maintains that it was unskilled driving and sheer disregard towards life for money that cost his daughter's life.
"When I got my licence, the numbers of buses and other vehicles running on the roads were much fewer. I had to have an experience of minimum six years before getting the permit to drive heavy vehicles.
"Now drivers who have training and skills required to steer heavy vehicles on roads are less in number than the vehicles that are plying within the capital city and outside. Unskilled drivers are taking advantage of this gap," Jahangir observed.
There are many young people who are badly in need of a job, he pointed out, adding "It is easy for them to find a broker who would manage a licence from the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) for them in exchange for money."
"In such cases, people will not even have to take the driving test, let alone passing it."
With that licence, one hopped in the driving seat of a bus and got the vehicle rolling down the road. "I do not consider him a driver."
An accident is very likely to happen when such unskilled drivers speed up vehicles and pull over at any point of the roads to pick up and drop off passengers, Jahangir said.
The solution he prescribes is to set up bus stops and counters from where people will collect tickets before getting on board.
The latest law incorporates provisions to bring discipline to the transport sector. To mention a few, licences will specify what type of vehicle one is allowed to drive, working hours of drivers and helpers should be determined, and the authorities of the transport sector will also face action for any wrongdoing.
A driver, if found responsible for serious injuries or death of a person, will have to serve a maximum fiver-year sentence or pay Tk5 lakh in fine or both.
Jahangir said the verdict in the case filed over last year's incident set an example that people would not get off scot-free anymore for crimes like that.
None of the two drivers, who had been sentenced to life in jail, did have a licence to drive heavy vehicles.
"The 2018 act has sent out a ripple over the sector, making all stakeholders ponder how to avoid punishment, if not deaths or injuries," Jahangir said.
"They should be made aware of all the aspects of the law. Workers' leaders, transport owners and BRTA officials should engage in dialogues to overcome the barriers to implementation of the law," he said.
Since the fateful incident that upended his life, Jahangir has always been striving to maintain a good relationship with the drivers' community because he still has a sense of belonging to them. He fears that his demand for justice for his child's death might be misunderstood as a stance against them.
"My daughter used to tell me, 'two more years abba [father] and then you will not have to drive anymore'," Jahangir said, adding that after he had seen Dia dead in hospital and learnt how she was killed, he could not imagine himself getting behind the wheel again.