When supply outstrips demand, awareness programmes, GPSs in buses no match to un-roadworthy buses, inexperienced drivers as the death toll mounts A house at Hewadewila in Rambukkana is mourning the deaths of a brother and sister aged 11 and 2, victims of yet another speeding private bus. The two children- Sasantha Mirihanga and Malsha Nethumani, and [...]


Bus drivers kill but given bail to drive and kill another day


When supply outstrips demand, awareness programmes, GPSs in buses no match to un-roadworthy buses, inexperienced drivers as the death toll mounts

A house at Hewadewila in Rambukkana is mourning the deaths of a brother and sister aged 11 and 2, victims of yet another speeding private bus. The two children- Sasantha Mirihanga and Malsha Nethumani, and their mother W. Nirma Swaranalatha (38) were involved in a horrific Poya Day accident on the main Rambukkuna-Colombo Road, as they walked towards the local Buddhist temple on Sunday last week.

The accident on Rambukkana-Colombo Rd. that claimed two young lives (inset picture). Pix by Karunaratne Athukorale

The mother lies unconscious at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the local hospital on a life supporter, and is not aware that her two children were buried on a wet Thursday evening. Eyewitnesses were later to tell police that the bus that was later found to have faulty brakes, rammed into the victims as they were attempting to cross the road. The two children were killed instantly, while their mother was critically injured.

The tragedy is even more chilling as the woman is the sole breadwinner of the family, because her husband, an ex-soldier, is medically unfit to do any work, and is confined to home. Even more frustrating for relatives and neighbours was that the driver was allowed bail even before the dead were buried. “This should never have been the case, it is most regrettable”, the local Buddhist High Priest Ven. Siyambalagamuwe Dhammasiri Thera, told the Sunday Times.

While all this was happening at Rambukkuna, a similar situation prevailed at yet another home at a village in Batticaloa. A 48-year-old mother and her 10-year-old son were traveling in a van, when they were hit by a speeding SLTB bus, killing the mother instantly and severely injuring the son, who now lies in a critical condition at the Batticaloa General Hospital.

According to the National Transport Commission (NTC), in 2012, there were 307 fatal accidents involving private passenger coaches, while State-run buses (SLTB) accounted for 85. Private busses also caused serious injuries to 727 persons and the SLTB to 208 individuals.

The majority of the fatalities- 256, involved pedestrians, followed by motorcyclists- 138, while the total number of accidents in all categories caused by private buses for the same period was 4,752 and the SLTB 1,231. Meanwhile, the relevant authorities, for their part, say they are doing everything possible to curb the steep rise in accidents, both fatal and otherwise, but concede little or no success.

The accident in Batticaloa. Pic by Deva Atchuthan

NTC Chairman Roshan Gunawardene said that a task force involving police personnel, the Registration of Motor Vehicles (RMV) Dept and representatives from the private bus associations, have drawn up several programs for implementation at the very earliest.

He said that, since the beginning of this month, representatives from this grouping had held several awareness programmes for bus crews at accident prone locations in Ratmalana, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Hambantota, Kegalle and Killinochchi and that, there are plans also for similar programs in all major towns and even villages islandwide.

The participants were advised to adhere to the road rules and regulations, consider pedestrian and other road users’ safety, the disturbing affect it has on a family when the sole breadwinner is killed in an accident, speed limits, etc. Those present were also shown video footage of bloodied fatal accidents caused by both private and SLTB passenger buses, and even the funerals of some of the victims, Mr. Gunawardene said.

It has also been decided that, in the case of an accident, fatal or otherwise, the driver and the crew will not be allowed to operate for a period of two weeks, and instead, attend a class on safe driving, conducted by the police, he said. Drivers involved in fatal accidents also risk having their licence cancelled indefinitely, depending on the outcome of the investigation, he added.

NTC Chairman Roshan Gunawardene

He added that a round-the-clock monitoring centre has also been set up inside the NTC complex, where the movement of buses and the attitude of the drivers are being recorded. “We have already installed Global Positioning Systems (GPS) on some 700 private buses, and it is intended to make it mandatory on the entire fleet that totals 18,000. With this system, it will be possible to track the behaviour of a vehicle in any part of the country.

“For example, if a driver is exceeding the speed limit, or violating other regulations such as stopping to drop or pick up passengers away from a designated bus halt, or staying for long periods at a location, waiting for more passengers”, Mr. Gunawardene said.

He added that, two traffic policemen who will be on duty at all times inside the centre, will radio the street patrol police and direct them to the location where the errant vehicle is positioned.

Plans are also afoot to crack down on inexperienced drivers and those without a valid licence, because records indicate that these persons contribute to a large number of accidents, he said. In addition, the NTC, along with the police, will erect huge cutouts featuring scenes of nasty motor crashes in accident prone areas throughout the country.

At a recent meeting with bus operators, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), K. Illangakoon spoke on the alarming increase in accidents involving private passenger coaches, and called upon those present to advise their men or face the consequences.
He said that private bus men were were on a wild race on the roads and this had to come to an end. The IGP has also instructed the police to crack down on motorists who park their vehicles on pavements, thereby denying space for pedestrians who ultimately must use the road and run the risk of being hit by a vehicle.

The police chief further stressed that, although there was a drop in accidents involving other types of vehicles, in the case of the private buses, it was otherwise. Gemunu Wijeratne of the Private Bus Owners’ Association told the Sunday Times that certain corrupt politicians must take a share of the blame for the ad hoc issuing of route permits, instead of following standard procedures, which has resulted in a flood of vehicles on the roads and has led to a rat race.

He also called for a stipulated timetable in which the buses should be allowed to operate. This will bring down the number of buses on the relevant routes, bringing in some uniformity. “For example, when a bus is allowed to leave Matara for Colombo at a particular time, another is released from another town on the same route a short while later the vehicles will be overlapping, and therefore, they speed, and the end results–bloody accidents,” he said.

He added that, a timetable would stipulate a time of departure for a vehicle, giving it the required time to operate without a loss, but this not the case at present. There are too many buses on the same route and at the same time, and this has led to the present chaos,” Mr Wijeratne added.

He added that, to create such a timetable was no easy task, and that, it needed the involvement of experts who will, at the initial stage, conduct a passenger demand survey in key cities and towns, before proceeding. There should be two timetables- one for long distance operators and the other for short distance, he said.

And so, while officialdom is drawing up plans to curb the chilling rise in fatal accidents, the body count of victims continues to mount.

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