Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ipoh Express bus tragedy

Improve the quality of drivers

The recent bus crash that killed 10 passengers in Ipoh was a real tragedy that could have been avoided if only certain rules were adhered to by the driver, his employer who owns Sani Express and the relevant enforcement agencies involved in ensuring safety of public transportation. The tragedy also highlights certain weaknesses in the transportation industry that should be remedied if we want to prevent recurrences in the future. It appears that we have not learnt from the experience of the Bukit Gantang tragedy 2 years ago where 22 people lost their lives in a similar accident on our highways.

The 38 year old driver of the ill-fated bus was reported to have a clean record and the bus was new and in good condition. The driver however has admitted that he fell asleep at the wheels at the time of the accident. It is clear that he was too exhausted to drive in the first place let alone handling a double-decker bus in the wee hours. Why did he continue despite feeling sleepy and tired? Why was he allowed to continue without adequate rest? The Transport Ministry has clear guidelines on road safety for express buses including working hours and rest for drivers. Why were these not adhered to?

Double-decker buses are meant more for use within the city and may not be ideal for highway driving as they are generally less stable at higher speeds. Handling of these buses is different and requires more skills than the usual single-tiered ones. The drivers of such buses need special training to handle them especially during emergencies. The transport ministry must come up with proper guidelines for the safe operation of these buses as they have become necessary due to the increasing number of travellers especially during holidays and festive periods.

Low wages is the underlying cause of poor quality of express bus drivers. Financial demands forces them to undertake long working hours which virtually drains them off their physical and mental energy when they report for work especially for late night driving. It is not uncommon these days for workers, particularly from the lower income group, to resort to multiple jobs to boost their income. Relying on income from a single job will not be enough to make ends meet considering the high cost of living particularly in urban areas.

Bus companies must operate their services more professionally and be responsible for the comfort and safety of the passengers. Though profits are important it must not be at the expense of the safety of the passengers. They must recruit drivers with the right attitude and commitment by higher wages and better perks. These would not only attract better and experienced drivers but will reduce their need for multiple jobs or working long hours thereby will be in better mental and physical state when they report for duty.

The government should keep the pressure on bus companies to ensure that safety measures are not comprised for monetary gains. Better wages, perks, regulated working hours and training for them will go a long way to ensure a more committed and responsible fleet of drivers operating the express buses plying our roads and highways.

The job of an express bus driver, like a pilot, is a very responsible one as the lives of many are in his hands. Unless we take it seriously and get only the best for the job there is no way of preventing further tragedies like this. The Ipoh tragedy offers another lesson for the authorities to improve buck up.Whether they learn from it is yet to be seen.


It is time for the government to improve other forms of public transportation as our roads and highways are fast becoming congested and too risky for travel especially during weekends, holidays and festive periods. Even the rest areas are too congested for drivers to take a break even if they is hungry, tired or sleepy.

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