Global revolt against automotive terror

Bangladesh has seen huge demonstrations over the past week, as tens of thousands of university students and schoolchildren protest lax traffic enforcement after two young students were killed by a speeding bus July 29. The driver was apparently racing another bus to pick up passengers. The protests have for days paralyzed Dhaka, with roadblocks erected on major thoroughfares. In one case, protesters stopped a police SUV carrying a deputy inspector general, only to find that the vehicle had no registration, and its driver didn’t have a license. Rubber bullets and tear-gas have failed to break the roadblocks. (GlobalNews, BBC)

Writes TRT World: "Bangladesh's road safety record is appalling. More than 7,000 people died in accidents in 2017, and this year the toll may be similar. Much of it can be blamed on aging and unsafe vehicles, unlicensed drivers who don’t pay attention to traffic rules or speed limits, crumbling infrastructure, poor lighting, and state apathy."

It is rapidly escalating into a political crisis for the government—which is of course using the distraction of US "interference." Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu accused the US Embassy of "poking [its] nose in Bangladesh's internal politics in an indecent way" after it issued a statement protesting the repression. (LAT, WaPo)

But it isn't just the Embassy that has taken note. UN human rights experts on Aug. 13 urged Bangladesh authorities to immediately release photojournalist Shahidul Alam, who was arrested on charges of spreading propaganda and false information against the government after he reported police repression against the protesters. (Jurist)

TRT World adds a hopeful note. Despite usual clogged and chaotic roadways in Dhaka, "there are days without any traffic on the roads, but that's not out of environmental concerns, but because of a strike (hortal), usually called by the opposition."

We'll take what we can get, thanks. It's a start. The challenge is for the opposition to adopt road safety and environmental concerns as political demands.

Meanwhile, a similar development is reported from southern Italy. Hundreds of mostly African farmworkers downed tools and marched from the fields chanting "we are not slaves" and "we are not cannon fodder" (carne da macello), after 16 migrant workers were killed in what media accounts call traffic "accidents" or "crashes" (terminology we reject). In two cases within 48 hours near the city of Foggia in Puglia region, trucks transporting tomatoes slammed into vans carrying foreign workers returning from their day's labor. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has pledged a crackdown on the "mafia" that controls the tomato industry in Puglia. But the farmworkers, donning red caps and calling themselves the "gorras rojas," have continued to press their protests. (The Local ItalyEl Salto)

In what is unfortunately not seen as related news, today has witnessed what seems to be another "car intifada" attack in London. The vehicle swerved into cyclists and pedestrians outside the Houses of Parliament, injuring three. (BBC News)

The dilemma is that in Bangladesh the problem is seen largely in terms of official corruption, in Puglia in terms of labor exploitation, and in London in terms of political Islam. And all of those are very real problems. But the common factor in these three cases is car culture. And that must be a conscious, critical part of our political response.

Photo:  Dinamopress via El Salto

  1. Dr. Li Mouqiu: say his name

    From China Daily, Aug. 20: offers apology for doctor's death caused by its courier
    Major online food delivery service has issued a public apology to the family of a revered doctor who died after a scooter crash several months ago that was caused by one of its couriers in downtown Shanghai.

    The apology from the Alibaba-owned company comes amid a public outcry for delivery drivers to show more respect for traffic rules and lives.

    Doctor Li Mouqiu, who co-founded the emergency departments at Shanghai's two major hospitals, Ruijin and Huashan, was knocked off his electric scooter by a courier carrying takeout orders for on Feb 24… He died in intensive care on March 26 at age 75.

    The family sued the company for damages… The court's verdict is pending. However, Li's family has said it was unsatisfied with's defense and the behavior of its representatives.

    On Wednesday, Li's daughter, Rita Li, aired her complaints on Sina Weibo, writing that had denied that it was accountable for the accident, which was caused by an employee of its third-party logistics service supplier, and that the family had not received any apology from the company…

    The post quickly spread online. It was forwarded more than 1,000 times and attracted hundreds of comments, many in support of the family.

    In response, apologized to the family on Thursday… The company also promised stricter training and reviews of its couriers to ensure they abide by traffic rules to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

    Many netizens remained unconvinced, arguing that the company would have reacted differently had the victim not been a noted figure.

    Crashes caused by couriers are not rare in China, the world's biggest food delivery market… Crashes involving food delivery drivers have been rampant, largely because couriers—mostly riding electric scooters—break traffic rules to avoid fines for being late.

    In Shanghai, delivery drivers were responsible for a crash every 2.5 days last year, according to Shanghai's traffic management authority. Nine people were killed and 134 injured in 117 road accidents involving mail and food deliveries last year in the city…

    Similar incidents were reported in cities such as Nanjing and Shenzhen, resulting in a public outcry for measures to enforce training and stricter management of couriers so they abide by traffic rules….

    After watching footage of the accident that caused her father's death, Li's daughter said it was avoidable because traffic was not heavy and her father was riding his scooter slowly, leaving enough space for the courier to overtake him safely. Yet the courier rushed by and knocked her father down.

    "Slow down, don't drive in haste and don't disregard others' safety because you've got insurance," the daughter said in a message directed to all couriers on Sina Weibo.

    This appears to be the only account of this incident in English, and we note that it does not make clear if the courier was himself on a scooter or in a car. Either way, it is another sympton of  China's aggressive embrace of the pathological, dystopian car culture first pioneered by the West.