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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Be clear about your duties to nation

There is sufficient legislation governing the express bus industry which is responsible for the lives of many but lax enforcement remains the problem.

CAN our officials in charge of road safety and politicians please shut up and stop appearing in front of television cameras each time a bus tragedy occurs?

Their oft-repeated views hold little value, especially to the families of innocent passengers killed in accidents caused by rogue drivers or sleepyheads not fit for driving.

In the latest tragedy last Saturday, a double-decker express bus skidded and crash into the divider on the North-South Expressway (NSE) in Ipoh, leaving 10 passengers dead and three injured.

There always a big hue and cry after each tragic episode. A customary probe and an increased enforcement are the usual knee-jerk responses.

But we expect the checks and issuance of summonses to peter out, especially when bus drivers retaliate by not turning up for work.

Operators would plead with the authorities to go easy on enforcement and soon enough, it will be back to the old “close-one-eye” scenario until the next tragic accident.

May I suggest that top officials of the Road Transport Department, the Road Safety Department, and senior traffic police officers take a drive on the 880km NSE at night?

They should be able to experience the scare of driving next to speeding express bus drivers and tour bus drivers, including those from our strict-on-rules southern neighbours.

Passengers and other motorists are subjected to huge risks by these reckless daredevils, who also include texting truck drivers,

My closest shave with one of them came between the Seremban and Malacca stretch around midnight on Dec 23.

An express bus that must have been running at 130kmh, forced me off the fast lane to the middle lane near Rembau area.

While I was still in the lane a short distance down, another express bus and a Singapore-registered tour bus overtook my car on the right AND the left.

At the speed these buses run, it is a miracle that deaths are not daily occurences.

Part of the problem is the poor pay given to drivers in what must surely be a lucrative business that has 187 players and more clamouring to come in.

With a basic salary as low as RM500, drivers have to earn “trip allowances” to take home between RM2,000 and RM3,000 a month. That usually means forgoing sleep or staying awake with the help of drugs.

Their use of psychotropic pills is old hat but the issue remains unresolved.

Two years ago, the Consumers association of Penang (CAP) highlighted the confession of a drug user — an express bus driver who had been plying the Kuala Lumpur-Terengganu route for 10 years.

With the the pill, he said “eyes were awake but the brain is asleep”, adding that most drivers tend to speed because they would otherwise feel sleepy.

His confession came in the wake of the country’s worst express bus tragedy. Twenty passengers died when the bus heading from Johor Baru to Alor Star, skidded and overturned on the expressway near Bukit Gantang, in Perak.

In the 4am accident, the bus crashed through the guardrail, continued its run into a concrete drain and fell into a 6m ravine.

The express bus industry is responsible for the lives of many. There are sufficient laws under the police, Road Transport Department, Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board and the Road Safety Department to governing the industry.

But as always, the problem lies with lax enforcement.

In addition to the laws, we now have the Safety Health and Environment Code of Practice (SHE COP) for the sector.

The SHE code was developed in 2007 after a series of high profile accidents involving commercial vehicles, notably the Bukit Gantang crash.

The Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros), has since conducted a commendable study on its effectiveness.

Miros evaluated speeding violations using Global Positioning System (GPS) units installed in selected buses.

According to Miros director-general Prof Dr Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah, the number of bus accidents dropped by as much as 36%.

But SHE is just a code and not compulsory. There are 165 fleet operators out there who have yet to comply with its requirements.

The Cabinet Committee on Road Safety chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, which is scheduled to meet soon, should seriously think about making the code mandatory for all commercial vehicles.

With self-regulation being the focus of the code, express bus firms must bear more responsibilities, with CEOs made accountable for accidents involving their buses.

The onus should be on the companies to initiate the right policies, set up effective organisation and frameworks for planning and implementation, conduct evaluations and take actions for improvement.

But then again, if the code is made compulsory as yet another punitive law, would there be effective enforcement?

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Austrian satirist Karl Kraus: What good is speed if the brain has oozed out on the way?

Along The Watchtower by M. VEERA PANDIYAN

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