By YS Chan
Another express bus has crashed. This time, a passenger was killed and 15 others were injured in the accident that occurred at Km152 of the North-South Expressway (NSE), near the Bukit Tambun exit, at 4.15am on March 27.
The police are investigating the cause of the accident that occurred after the bus driver lost control of the vehicle, which crashed into the divider before rolling over on its side on the highway.
It is easy to lose control of a vehicle, more so one that is heavy and has a high centre of gravity, like a bus, when the tyres aquaplane on a wet road.
Recently, a car that drove over a puddle of water while taking a bend at high speed on the Thean Teik Highway in Air Itam, Penang, flipped and turned turtle. The whole incident was captured on the dashboard camera of the car behind.
But this was unlikely in the case of the bus as the drainage along expressways is much better than that of regular roads and city streets.
Such bus crashes could be due to the driver dozing off. If that were the case, then the second driver on board would be of no help. It would not have made a difference if there had been 40 second drivers on board a bus as, at that hour, everyone would be sleepy.
Unless we have sufficient proof that drivers can reverse their body clock to sleep during the day and be wide awake at night, it is better to discourage overnight travel in express buses by introducing a surcharge.
It is extremely difficult to remain awake while driving. When I was in my 20s, I often drove tourists from here to Singapore in a limousine.
Instead of staying overnight in Johor Bahru, after dropping them off, I would return straight to Kuala Lumpur, which was no mean feat at a time before the NSE.
But there was one night I had to get up from sleep to send a mechanic to Singapore to repair one of my company’s tour buses that had broken down.
I brought along several oranges, which I ate like apples, without peeling off the skin, to remain awake.
Even pillion riders can fall off motorcycles when they are sleepy. In my youth, I was foolhardy enough to ride pillion from Kuala Lumpur to Port Dickson and return the same night to work the next morning.
Several times, I dozed off, lost my balance, and almost fell off the motorcycle. I knew I had to stay awake to remain alive, but I just could not control it. Can bus drivers overcome their sleepiness?
Many drivers may not be aware when they fall into a microsleep that lasts a split second. Those lasting much longer may cause the drivers to panic when they wake up and realise they are not in control of the vehicle.
Many may overreact by stepping hard on the brakes and swerving violently to avoid a collision. Anyone who does this can flip any vehicle, even an F1 racing car, at high speed.
The best way to reduce express bus accidents at night is to make sure drivers have enough sleep during the day.
Giving rest time to drivers does not mean they will use the time to get enough rest. The only way to be sure is to quarantine them in sound-proof, completely dark sleeping capsules so they enjoy the soundest sleep.
Having two drivers on board a bus only encourages passing the buck. This arrangement gives a false sense of safety as it is easy to think that the other driver can always take over if one is sleepy.
But by the time one feels sleepy, it may already be too late, which is probably what happens in many cases of bus accidents with a second driver on board.
YS Chan is an FMT reader
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