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Bus crashes: How to make punishment work

 | January 4, 2017

Impose harsh penalties on transport companies as well as enforcement agencies.



We are in danger of being desensitised to express bus crashes in the same way that we have become immune to reports of deaths and destruction caused by suicide bombers.

On Christmas eve, an express bus operated by Alisan Golden Coach careered into a ravine near Muar and killed the driver and 13 passengers. It was alleged that the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.

The usual hand wringing and blame game followed.

If the authorities are serious about reducing major crashes with many fatalities, they should try prosecuting the directors of the companies that operate the buses.

The following overnight transformation would probably occur:

  • The drivers will stop taking drugs and the bus timetables will become more consumer friendly.
  • Safety precautions will be followed, like making sure drivers have enough rest before starting work.
  • Drivers would refuse to move until all passengers are wearing their seat belts.
  • Buses will be more roadworthy and the work conditions for drivers will improve. Currently, low wages and poor working conditions force drivers to moonlight to make ends meet. They take drugs to stay awake and combat fatigue.

Malaysians know that a few things will happen after a major bus crash. Committees and sub-committees will be formed, and meeting after meeting will be organised to study the crash and see what measures should be put into place to prevent another crash.

Politicians will visit the injured in hospital and be photographed handing out cheques to help the victims’ families. The message being conveyed to the public is that something is being done to address the issue.

The director-general of the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros), Wong Shaw Voon, claimed that the bus in the Johor crash had been travelling at more than 100kph. This is well above the speed limit of 90kph imposed on buses.

Wong said that more tests would be conducted to ascertain the true cause of the crash. He also said Miros would investigate how Alisan manages its drivers.

After the 2013 bus crash in Genting Highlands, in which 37 people were killed, we heard more or less the same statements. Similar investigations were carried out, but few of the recommendations have been implemented. These investigations were basically a waste of time and money.

After the Muar tragedy, Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said the Road Transport Department (JPJ) should work with the traffic police and PLUS Malaysia. He also advised JPJ to check the condition of express buses and the health of the drivers.

All these measures will be forgotten a few months from now. How about prosecuting government agencies for failing to enforce the law?

Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the transport and human resources ministries would design a course to train express bus drivers.

Whatever for? In 2008, drivers were told that they had to undergo compulsory training, but this scheme never materialised because bus companies were unwilling to pay the small fee.

If you want to see real progress in reducing bus crashes, suspend the bus companies’ licences, jail the directors, and fine the companies at least RM3 million, not the measly RM300 which they currently pay.

Don’t punish the junior employees. Punish errant companies where it hurts them. We must also disband the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) because it has continually failed to do its duty.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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