It has been four years into Nirapad Sarak Chai (We Demand Safe Roads) movement, but nothing has changed as anarchy and indiscipline keep on ruling Dhaka roads, causing frequent accidents and claiming lives.
Movement of unfit vehicles, driving without licence, reckless driving, driving on wrong lanes, and jaywalking – everything has remained as before.
Even so, the authorities appear to be indifferent to such chaos on roads.
For example, every day many unfit buses on different routes spew out black clouds of exhaust but traffic police continue to show apparent nonchalance.
According to the Motor Vehicles Ordinance, it is a punishable offence to emit any smoke hazardous to public health and environment. But there is now hardly any drive against vehicles spewing black smoke.
Transport experts put continuous breaking of traffic rules both by drivers, passengers and pedestrians down to a lack of action on part of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authorities (BRTA), Dhaka city corporations and Dhaka Metropolitan Police's (DMP) Traffic Division.
DMP Additional Commissioner Md Munibur Rahman, however, said they regularly fine and dump unfit buses.
"But if the BRTA issues fitness certificates to any unfit vehicles, we have nothing to do as everything shows okay on papers," he told The Business Standard.
The traffic signal system, another most important aspect for road safety, is still operated through the age-old manual method, with officers gesturing hands and sticks to control vehicular movement – even though digitisation has touched every sector.
There more than 110 traffic signal lights installed across the capital, but only lights at the Gulshan intersection are now active.
City drivers rarely pay heed to manual signals and a single traffic policeman at an intersection cannot tackle chaotic traffic.
Pedestrians are reluctant to use footbridges, and pay no attention to traffic signals and cross roads ignoring moving vehicles.
But Dhaka Metropolitan Police blamed Dhaka city corporations for non-functioning of traffic signal lights.
Md Munibur Rahman, additional commissioner (Traffic) of DMP, told TBS that it is the duty of the city corporations to repair and maintain signal lights.
"We are entitled to operate the lights. The lights at Gulshan intersection are okay and we are using them," he added.
Even the footpaths in Dhaka city are mostly occupied by hawkers and makeshift shops, leaving hardly any space for pedestrians. But police rarely take action against those occupiers.
Besides, most Dhaka buildings lack parking space, forcing people to park their vehicles on streets, narrowing lanes and increasing traffic on roads.
For the illegal occupation of footpaths, the traffic official passed the blame on the city corporation authorities and other organisations involved.
Meanwhile, many drivers claimed that they have been harassed and forced to pay bribes to get a driving licence from the BRTA.
Jakir Hossain, who has a licence for medium vehicles, told TBS that he had been told that his application papers went missing.
However, when he paid a bribe to a middleman, his "missing" papers were found and he was given the licence, he said.
BRTA Director Moinuddin Ahmed (enforcement) claimed that the process to apply for a driving licence is now more transparent and digital. So, there is no scope of harassment.
"But queues for licence seekers are getting longer as we have a huge number of applications against limited manpower," he said.
Buet Professor Dr Hadiuzzaman told TBS that the number of road accidents are increasing alarmingly, even after 2018's nationwide safe road movement.
No digital system will work amid this chaotic traffic management system, he said.
"We are upgrading roads and making expressways, but speed development of road infrastructure and safety measures have not been ensured at a time," he added.
Stating that more than 60,000 unfit vehicles were added to the fleet in 2021, the Buet professor said, "We lack skilled and international standard heavy vehicle drivers."
Most drivers are overstressed and not skilled. In Dhaka, around 50% of public transport drivers are drug addicts, he noted.
"We could not evict illegal vehicles plying on highways even after the high court rule. We have around 50-60 lakh illegal vehicles that are out of the BRTA licence process. So, road safety still remains a far cry,"
The number of road accidents is also increasing, he added.
According to the Buet accident research centre, road accidents in 2021 increased more than 25% over the previous year.
Dr Hadiuzzaman suggested focusing on five factors for the betterment of the country's road situation, which are traffic management, safe roads, safe vehicles, safe road users, and trauma centres.
Citing the example of India's Haryana state, which is doing far better in reducing road accidents this way, he also recommended fixed salaries, incentives and other benefits for drivers and transport workers.
"All these are mentioned in the Labour Law 2000. Appointment letters for transport workers and their yearly salary hikes were also included in 111 recommendations made after the safe road movement. We are now waiting for the 'Bidhimala' of the proposed road transport act 2018," he added.
Meanwhile, the DMP and Japan International Cooperation Agency are jointly piloting the Dhaka Road Traffic Safety Project.
Md Shafiqur Rahman, additional deputy commissioner (Traffic-Admin & Research) of DMP, told TBS that the three-year project will be implemented in three phases: traffic education, engineering (accident data collection) and enforcement.
"The project has been designed on Tokyo's traffic management model, one of the sophisticated and disciplined traffic management systems in the world," he said.
"Wherever you go in the world, the cities with effective traffic management systems have citizens who are well-mannered and law-abiding. So, the project's aim is to focus on building awareness among Dhaka dwellers at first," Shafiqur Rahman said.
The awareness programme has been designed on Japan's model. At first, children would be taught the traffic rules, and signs. Then they will teach their elderly family members how to act while crossing roads and footbridges, said Md Munibur Rahman, additional commissioner (traffic) of the DMP.