Bus fires are one too many

basBy CY Ming

On Jan 15 last year, eight people died while 21 were injured after a tour bus overturned and caught fire at KM326 of the North-South Expressway near Tapah.

On Nov 11 last year, a RapidKL bus caught fire in Petaling Jaya and all 20 passengers and the driver escaped unhurt. The fire started from a short-circuit in the engine area.

On Oct 13 this year, a RapidKL driver stopped his bus and told passengers to get out after smoke emerged from the engine compartment.

The bus was soon engulfed in flames, which were so intense that six cars parked nearby caught fire.

On Nov 29, a tour bus caught fire after it had stopped at KM92 of the North-South Expressway, between Ayer Hitam and Yong Peng, after one of its tyres burst.

Luckily, all 30 Chinese tourists escaped unhurt before the bus was completely destroyed by fire.

On Dec 16, 40 passengers scrambled out of a tour bus when it bursts into flames at Jalan Sultan Ismail in Kuala Lumpur.

All these are tell-tale signs that all is not well with our locally-built buses, particularly the electrical system fitted by coachbuilders or accessories added on by bus operators.

Although all buses are required to pass the bi-annual inspections at Puspakom, vehicle examiners may not have the expertise to check the vehicle’s electrical circuits and wiring.

In Malaysia, the worst bus accident occurred on Aug 21, 2013 when a bus with 53 people on board plunged into a ravine while descending Genting Highlands.

The road was built too wide, inducing the driver to exceed well over the 50kph speed limit, and the poorly functioning brakes could not slow down the bus when taking a sharp turn.

The driver was killed along with 36 passengers, while 16 others were injured, many seriously. The authorities should act to prevent another huge tragedy involving local buses.

Firstly, all buses must be installed with in-cabin cameras to monitor the behaviour of bus drivers, as many use their smartphones repeatedly, especially tour and express bus drivers.

The headphones found at the dashboard are giveaway signs that drivers use them while driving, and they would be distracted by loud music or prolonged phone conversations.

All buses should be equipped with at least two fire extinguishers, one near the driver and the other in the engine compartment.

For buses with luggage compartment, another fire extinguisher can be placed there. Bus operators must conduct fire drills regularly involving the buses and drivers.

Every driver must be tested to see whether he or she is capable of hoisting up the fire extinguisher, which may weigh 9kg and mounted securely to the bus.

Bus drivers should be encouraged to help put out fires of other vehicles as part of their civic duty and opportunity to practise.

Fire extinguisher suppliers should replenish the spent gas or cartridge and dry powder for free as part of their corporate social responsibility and publicise such heroic acts.

Sadly, many drivers lack safety consciousness with their “tidak apa” attitude. Concrete steps must be taken to stamp out this apathy.

A catastrophe can damage our tourism industry severely, apart from the sufferings of those injured and untold misery to the loved ones of those killed.

CY Ming is an FMT reader.

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