Ravine bus tragedy spurs new safety measures

Ravine bus tragedy spurs new safety measures

Ministry looks at air travel to curb road toll

Rescuers work frantically to free 20 survivors from the bus crash that killed 20 retirees on an outing in Uttaradit province. (Photo by Boonnam Kerdkaew)
Rescuers work frantically to free 20 survivors from the bus crash that killed 20 retirees on an outing in Uttaradit province. (Photo by Boonnam Kerdkaew)

The Transport Ministry said Wednesday it intends to apply aviation-style safety practices, including strict limits on driving hours, to inter-provincial public buses.

The promise was made in reaction to another multi-fatality bus crash on Tuesday. A bus plunged into a ravine in Uttaradit, killing 18 passengers and injuring another 20.

The new requirements are among a set of measures that Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith has ordered in response to the tragic incident.

He wants the state-owned Transport Co Ltd, which runs and provides concessions for interprovincial buses, to adopt two new measures commonly used to ensure safety in the aviation industry.

First, bus drivers will be required to make trip plans, similar to a pilot's flight plan, which include details ranging from routes to be travelled, stops and destinations.

The plans must be sent to Transport Co for examination to ensure proper precautions are being taken, he said.

Second, restrictions on driving hours will be applied to bus drivers to make sure they have enough rest, which should help reduce the incidence of accidents, he said.

At present, Transport Co Ltd only gives bus drivers a 30-minute break for every four hours of driving. Mr Arkhom said officials have been told to consider whether to review this practice, as that amount of rest time may not be enough.

The accident on Tuesday involved a bus, carrying 36 retired employees of CAT Telecom Plc, which was travelling downhill on a winding road on Khao Pueng while on its way from Phrae to Bangkok.

The driver and his assistant survived and were receiving treatment at a local hospital. The driver jumped from the bus just before it plunged into the ravine.

Police were waiting to talk to him about the accident.

There was evidence the driver, identified as Udon Summart, slammed on the brakes for 100 to 200 metres, showing he tried to stop the vehicle, Mr Arkhom said, citing an initial investigation.

The 48-year-old driver has worked for Transport Co Ltd for 20 years and had never been involved in an accident.

The bus, which was hired for the special trip, had only been used for six years out of its expected 30-year lifespan.

Transport Co Ltd's acting president Amnat An-atngam said the company was waiting for investigation results into the cause of the accident.

An initial examination of road conditions near the accident found the four-lane road met safety standards, he said.

However, Mr Arkhom instructed the Highways Department and Rural Roads Department to inspect hillside roads and routes prone to accidents nationwide as part of solutions to ensure road safety.

Officials must also install barriers at turns, place warning signs and even landscape areas surrounding some dangerous stretches of road, he said.

Since Nov 1, the Department of Highways has seized 215 lorries that exceeded weight limits and which were blamed for damaging roads, the transport minister said, adding most of them were 22-wheel trailers that were carrying rocks and sand.

The overloaded lorries are a cause for concern.

Once loaded with materials, they can weigh up to 115 tonnes, far beyond the legal limit of 50.5 tonnes, Mr Arkhom said.

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