Safety of person and property on roads and highways has now been a more serious concern for all wayfarers, especially the passengers, across the country. Both the commuters and the inter-city travelers feel like believing there is an extra extent added to the normal probability for them to meet an accident. The statistics of death toll, let alone the non-fatal limb injuries, are literally horrible. The one truth coming out of all reports is that the number of fatal traffic accidents is still on the rise and the perceived probability of accidents to happen is still extraordinary. Finally, following a series of public protests, especially the remarkable nationwide student movement back in 2018, a new comprehensive law is passed. The new Road Transport Act 2018 repealed the previous Motor Vehicles Ordinance 1983 and brought about some new measures to meet the needs of times, though the full application of the desired law may need some more time as the relevant rules and regulations thereunder are yet to be formulated. However, there is one more legal perspective to view road safety and it is not exclusively the subject matter of the Road Transport Act 2018.
Road safety can fairly be viewed as a consumer right within the purview of the Consumers’ Rights Protection Act 2009 and this perspective can help fight many irregularities well ahead of any untoward occurrence. If the passengers know that road safety is their consumer right in exchange for the fare they pay to get transport service, they can work collectively to minimise the road hazards. The Consumers’ Rights Protection Act 2009 defined, inter alia, a recipient of any service, if availed for a consideration, as a consumer [Section 19(d)]. According to this definition, not only goods and medicines but also services paid for, render a person as a consumer. From this context, every passenger on roads, air or waterways is a consumer and is entitled to every right provided by the said Act.
The Act has also talked about certain anti-consumer right practices against which complaints and actions may lie, and ‘disservice’ to any promised service is there on that list. Though it is generally believed that unlike the business people, the consumers are just too many to unite but even so for consumers’ representation and protection of interests, there is a legal device in the Road Transport Act 2018 that speaks of forming committees for transport of people and goods in every metropolis, division and district [Section 27].
The Act also provides for the insurance scheme for passengers [Section 60] and the general instructions for driving motor vehicles [Section 49]. The general negative instructions that are directly connected to the safety of passengers are- no drunken or on-phone-call driver, no driving by conductors, no wrong-sided plying and no rooftop passenger accommodation etc. The passengers while on the roads can check these measures as consumers even before happening of any real accidents. The convenience is that the passengers can lodge real-time complaints with the Directorate of National Consumers’ Right Protection and the Director General is bound by law to entertain the complaints especially connected to the safety of passengers’ lives on roads and highways.
Section 21(2)(m) of the Consumers’ Rights Protection Act 2009 very clearly posited that the Director General has a legal duty to monitor whether the life of passengers are being put into risk by illegally running general public transport such as minibus, bus, launch, steamer and train by unskilled or unlicensed drivers and also to take necessary actions. The law has empowered the Director General or his officer to suspend or shut down business operations of any enterprise for anti-consumer right practices [Sections 27(4), 27(5)].
So, everything that endangers the safety of passengers on roads is essentially an anti-consumer right practice as the consumers generally have a right to safety regarding the goods or services they pay for. The aware and activist passengers can play timely roles by checking any irregularities on the part of the service providers and lodge immediate complaints with the Directorate if any issue is detected. This way, the passengers can, as a collective, stop an unlicensed driver and even an unfit bus from plying. The business organisations can be challenged for every illegal action in running general public transport that can possibly put the passengers’ lives into risk and the first challenge should come from the passengers’ side.
The writer is Lecturer,Department of Law,Bangladesh Army International University of Science and Technology (BAIUST).