Anyone travelling the Thimphu-Paro national highway would notice numerous vehicles filled with people inside and sign “L” on their vehicle along with names of the driving institutes and contact numbers posing, serious risk to licensed drivers, passengers, public and property, besides causing frequent traffic congestion.

 They may be possibly contravening both the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) Act, 1999, and the rules and regulations. 

RSTA Act aims to provide “ safe and efficient use of the road.”  The Act defines a “learner license” as a “license to learn to drive a motor vehicle on a highway” meaning supposed to learning-in practice already driving on the highways.  Road Safety and Transport Regulations 2021 aims to among others “ensure professionalism and quality in driving training to produce competent drivers, provide for monitoring and enforcement mechanism to ensure the quality of training provided by the driving training institutes, ensure safe, comfortable and quality services to the users.”

 The regulation also imposes duties on the Authority to “conduct the periodic monitoring of the quality of training courses provided by the driving training institutes and impose fines when it violates the rules and regulations. Rule no. 113 states that “A person shall not be allowed to learn driving along highways and in built-up areas for the first two months from the date of issuance of learner license.” Rule no. 115 explicitly prohibits the vehicle from carrying any passengers except the learner and the diver who must be licensed to drive.  However, one would not notice that these vehicles are filled with people inside. Are they not passengers? Further, there is a need to verify if the learners are at least two months into learning to drive as required by regulations.

 Neither the Act nor the Rules permit the Driving Institutes with such authority to drive with vehicles full of learners. With the increasing number of vehicles, the risks due to such vehicle are increasing. These vehicles when filled with more people pose more risks to human lives. The highways like Thimphu-Paro, there are numerous important persons including foreign delegations who use this route and are exposed to similar risks and face unnecessary traffic congestion.  In fact, such acts can be charged under the Penal Code of Bhutan for reckless driving or endangering other drivers including serious bodily injury or damage to the properties of other drivers. However, the growing number of these vehicles are plying freely seems that law enforcement agencies are failing their duties. If any accident happens, should the traffic authorities or RSTA bear the accountability because they failed to enforce the law?

The constitution guarantees the right to life, liberty, and security of the people. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure the security of everyone including the learners as well as other drivers and the public. The RSTA must initiate policies to minimize such risks and ensure the safety of everyone on the road. One of the measures is to ensure that every learner license holder first registers with the Transport Authority before allowing them to join the driving institutes to ensure that they fulfil the minimum required months and experience to drive on the highways. Second, no passengers except the instructor and learner, and finally, they must be allowed to drive only during off hours or early morning when there is no traffic to reduce traffic congestion and protect the safety of everyone.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.