Unsafe vans must be axed
Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob never seems to run out of ideas, and many have caught the attention of both the public and media. However, quite a few have prompted questions about their practicality, such as a 15-baht flat rate for the electric train system, or a sense of disappointment, like his U-turn on his predecessor's attempt to ban passenger van operators from using vehicles that are more than 10 years old.
This latest change of policy direction means that operators who were supposed to replace their vans with newer microbuses, for the sake of public safety, by a deadline set for today, can now stick with their old fleet as long as the vehicles pass a safety inspection.
Mr Saksayam, who held talks with van operators last week, seems to have forgotten that the van replacement order was meted out by former transport minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith following a series of fatal crashes. Mr Arkhom's requirement for operators to replace vans with larger, better-built microbuses was aimed at improving passenger safety.
According to the Foundation for Consumers' Safe Public Transport Travel Project, passenger vans were involved in 236 road accidents in 2017, resulting in 113 fatalities and 906 injuries. In 2016, 105 people died and 1,102 others were injured in similar accidents.
The current fleets of vans are unfit and unsafe for carrying passengers as they were designed for cargo transport, despite the operators fitting seats in them to accommodate passengers. It is well known that the country's poor public bus service over the past decades led to a boom in the popularity of passenger vans. Unfortunately, they are an extremely unsafe alternative, and this has been proven time and again by the number of crashes widely reported in the media.
The first-time minister may think that his decision is acceptable as he has ordered safety checks ahead of green-lighting the continued operation of these services, but it's no secret that any inspection requirements in this country can be easily skirted.
One notorious crash in 2017 involved a passenger van colliding with a truck in Chon Buri, killing 25. Right after the incident, the manager of the Chanthaburi-Bangkok van queue insisted that the doomed vehicle had met the required "safety standards", yet it was found out later that the opposite was true. The vehicle was barely roadworthy.
More importantly, Mr Saksayam fails to pay attention to academic studies linking the age of vehicles to a higher risk of death in road accidents.
One of the studies was recently cited by Agachai Sumalee of King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The academic issued a warning after Mr Saksayam's decision to keep the vans on the road, saying the risk of deaths in accidents involving vehicles more than 10 years old is "very high".
He referred to a study conducted by the United States Department of Transportation, which found drivers and passengers riding in cars that are more than 15 years old are 40% more likely to die in an accident, compared to those travelling in 10-year-old cars.
Prof Agachai said: "A passenger in an 18-year-old vehicle is 71% more likely to die in an accident than a passenger in a three-year-old vehicle."
It is understandable that Mr Saksayam has pity for van operators who are struggling to stay in business but he should not gamble with public safety. The best thing that he could do is enforce the ban but provide assistance, such as soft loans, so van operators can successfully navigate the necessary transition.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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