Thursday, October 14, 2010

No problem? — Tay Tian Yan

October 14, 2010

OCT 14 — They said the bus had gone through proper maintenance, and there was no problem with the bus.

They said the tyres were very new. No problem with the tyres.

They said the express bus company’s records were excellent. No problem with the company.

They said the road conditions were satisfactory. No problem with road conditions.

They also said the bus driver had no serious traffic offence records. No problem with the driver even.

BANG!! A road accident claimed the precious lives of 12 and injured many others.

I thought there was no problem at all?

That couldn’t be possible, otherwise how could so many lives be wiped out by road accidents each year?

The fatal accident involving an express bus last year took 16 lives, the year before 12, and the year before that 20...

The problem will only surface when we are on the highway.

While cruising at 110kph on the highway, you might occasionally find an express bus whizzing past you, often accompanied by a thick pall of exhaust smoke.

When you start to collect your senses again, you would probably notice “Had Laju 90km/jam” clearly marked on the rear of the bus. Based on your estimates, the bus could have travelled at 120kph, or probably 130kph or even 140kph...

The bus even added a reminder: If I drive carelessly, please call XXXX XXXX.

Occasionally you would call up that number to lodge a complaint out of frustration, but the other end of the line is often engaged and unanswered.

I have never driven a bus before, but experienced people told me a bus needs some extra skills to manoeuvre, not something an ordinary driver can handle easily. Even a pro driver needs to be in excellent physical and mental conditions before he can safely handle the monster.

The weight and speed of a bus will add to the momentum, which does not allow the bus to come to an instant halt after the brakes are applied. The faster the bus moves, the harder it becomes to come to a complete stop within a very short distance.

The height of a bus also makes it easy for it to lose its balance. A sharp turn at high speed will easily tip the bus over.

We do not need a Schumacher to go behind the wheels, but the driver must exercise a fair amount of steadiness, patience and a great deal of responsibility.

Buses are the most dangerous form of transportation in Malaysia, but they are often the safest in more civilised nations.

I took a two-day long bus trip in Europe many years ago from London to Copenhagen. The bus driver was manning his vehicle at a steady speed of between 60 and 80kph, not any faster even though the road conditions were perfect. An assistant would take over after every few hours, and both the bus and drivers would be changed after arriving at a major terminus.

The bus came to a standstill in Holland due to heavy traffic, but while the passengers onboard were excessively anxious, the driver insisted to move on a slow albeit steady speed.

I eventually missed my flight and had to purchase another ticket because of that.

As soon as I came back to Malaysia, I wrote a letter to the bus company and later received a cheque from the bus company to compensate my air fare. No questions asked.

Safety is PRICELESS! —

The Answer read on

Punish the culprits

LAST Sunday, I used the North-South Expressway on my way back to Kuala Lumpur from Malacca after attending a wedding. Upon hitting the highway, the stretch of road after the Ayer Keroh toll booth has a speed limit of 90kmh as the area is prone to crosswinds.

Nevertheless, as I was cruising in the middle lane, countless cars, including express buses, were overtaking my car like daredevils. Then, I was flabbergasted when a speeding express bus started tail-gating my car, beaming its headlights repeatedly as an indication it wanted me to move to the far left lane so that it could overtake.

I managed to move over to the far left lane, while the road hound sped ahead doing easily 130kph or more on a 90kph stretch. As the bus sped ahead, I was pondering on how we can keep our roads safe from such speed fiends.

Why do our enforcement agencies lack the will to ensure our roads are not turned into death traps?

Enforcement is sorely lacking, and the campaigns we run are a waste of public funds.Whenever there is a high-profile accident, all we get from related road transport agencies, the traffic police and JPJ are normally knee jerk reactions.

There is no real enforcement, and everyone seems to be breaking the law with impunity. Those who speed, those who drive in a dangerous manner, those who continuously ignore the red lights, the Mat Rempits, the tail-gaters, those who illegally modify their vehicles and blacken their number plates seem not to care about their own lives or the lives of others.

Sometimes, when we honk at these road fiends for their dangerous driving habits, they would honk back with raised fists, as though they have the right to do as they please. And in worse cases, they would bully other road users by driving in an intimidating manner.

Back to my journey, while still driving and hoping the driver of the bus would arrive safely and not hurt innocent road users or his passengers with his recklessness, I heard an ambulance approaching, followed by two more.

Then I encountered one of the worst traffic jams on the highway. Police vehicles with sirens blaring, Smart vehicles, PLUS vehicles and another five ambulances weaved their way through the jam. After crawling for about an hour, I saw the carnage.

It looked like a bomb blast site in a war-torn country. An express bus was lying on its side on the opposite side of the highway heading south, with another badly damaged bus behind it. Vehicle parts were strewn all over the road, guard railings were mangled and clothes and shoes were strewn around.

Sadly, bodies covered in black plastic bags could be seen lined up along the road shoulder.

No doubt it wasn’t the bus that overtook me earlier, but I can’t help wondering if all our express buses are ticking time-bombs that could be involved in tragic accidents sooner or later judging by the way express bus drivers overtake and speed.

How many families will lose their bread-winners? How many children will be orphaned? How many more lives need to be lost before Malaysian drivers come to their senses?

The 12 deaths could have been avoided if our road transport agencies had the will power to strictly enforce the laws.

Catch the culprits in the act. No more discounts, raise the summons to RM1,000 as initially suggested and impound drivers who treat the roads as their race track. Confiscate the heavily modified vehicles, and if the vehicles have better speed and are superior to our police vehicles, turn them into police vehicles. Would the compulsory use of seat belts on buses help save lives?

Kuala Lumpur.

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