Motorcyclists without helmets have been barred from buying fuel in Dhaka, in an attempt to quell tensions after major protests for better road safety in the Bangladeshi capital last month. The announcement by Dhaka police came after tens of thousands of teenage protesters and students gridlocked Dhaka for nine days in late July and early August, in a major challenge to the authority of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government.
"The (owners of) petrol pumps have already been told not to sell fuel to any motorbikers without helmets," said Dhaka Metropolitan Police commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia. He said bikers carrying more than one other person -- a common sight -- would also face punishment, and the one pillion passenger which is permitted must also wear a helmet.
Like elsewhere in Asia, the highly congested, polluted and chaotic city of almost 20 million people has seen an explosion in two-wheeled traffic in recent years. Although Bangladeshi roads are among the deadliest in the region -- around 12,000 people perish in accidents every year, according to a private monitoring group, or more than 30 per day -- many bikers wear no helmet.
The protests, which saw vehicles vandalised and thugs loyal to the government attack demonstrators, photographers and even the US ambassador's car, began after a speeding bus killed two teenagers. The young demonstrators, setting up roadblocks to check vehicle documents, demanded that the streets be made safer and called for a crackdown on the corruption that has bedevilled investment in infrastructure.
In the wake of the protests, Hasina's cabinet approved a new transport law stipulating harsher punishments for offenders. Dhaka police say they are already cracking down on dangerous motorists and taking unsafe vehicles off the road.
Traffic police have filed more than 5,500 cases against drivers including 2,657 bikers, Dhaka police said. In all police have filed some 626,000 cases against motor vehicle owners in the past 18 months over violation of transport laws across the country.
"The problems on the road is not new. It has been going for ages," Mia said. Sales of motorcycles soared by some 50 percent to 360,000 last year as Bangladesh's economy recorded over seven percent growth over the last three years. The government has slashed customs duties on bike imports to try to ease congestion created by cars and buses.