ANOTHER bus tragedy. Again. This time, it is a factory bus ramming into another stationary factory bus. Eight deaths and several seriously injured. The bus bore the worn-out look of a vehicle that had seen years of service. It is time for everyone, from the Transport Ministry to Puspakom, to revisit the inspection process of commercial vehicles. There is a lot of truth to the statement that “accidents don’t just happen, they are caused”. Even the word “accident” is itself a misnomer because it suggests an unfortunate incident that happens.
There are many factors that contribute to an accident. One, of course, is the state of the driver. Is he qualified to drive, and if so, was he well-rested? While bus companies bear the responsibility to ensure that their drivers are fit to be on the road ferrying people, the authorities are statute-bound to compel the operators to ferry the passengers safely to their destinations. Then, there is the state of the bus. Some buses, especially Bas Pekerja, are in such dilapidated condition that they seem to have outlived their purpose. In 2007, a bus that was involved in an accident that killed six and injured many severely, was found to be 16 years old. At that age, the bus is just some worn-out metal hanging on for dear life. A research into the bus’s history revealed that the vehicle’s structure was rickety with rust. Little wonder that the roof of the bus came off so easily, and the rest of the body collapsed on the passenger cabin like a concertina gate. If the integrity of the bus’s structure was not compromised, the impact might have been less severe.
In a study conducted by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) was quoted as saying that 23 per cent of accidents involving commercial vehicles in 2012 was due to the structural integrity being compromised. We know that commercial vehicles are required to be inspected by Puspakom every six months. But this is after the bus has been put together and it is hard to tell if the steel structure is rusty, or if the welding and jointing process has met safety requirements. Who’s to tell? It is time that Puspakom’s inspection extend beyond undercarriage checks to the manufacturing process of the bus, especially for buses that are retrofitted. Surely, a cause that contributes to close to a quarter of the reason for accidents deserves a closer inspection. Human factors, too, need a close watch. As the driver ages, sensory processing will naturally be affected and, add distraction and fatigue to this, then we have a lethal formula for accidents. The bus companies must ensure that their business is operated in a responsible manner, which means their vehicles and the people who operate them are fit for the purpose. Judging from the number and frequency of accidents involving commercial vehicles on our federal and state roads, the bus companies do not seem to be that responsible. Perhaps, making the directors of these companies liable may be the answer.