LETTER | Many road accidents involving express buses have occurred during overnight runs when drivers are drowsy and most of the passengers fast asleep.
The regulation requiring two drivers in buses for long distance overnight trips was meant to ensure a sleepy driver is replaced by the other and looks good on paper.
But when a driver starts to feel sleepy, it may be too late, as few would stop driving immediately.
It is normal to continue driving by shaking off sleepiness by being more alert, and one will carry on if no longer feel sleepy. Driving slowly can make some drivers sleepy and they get charged up by driving faster.
While some commercial vehicle drivers used drugs to stay awake, others use a variety of methods to fight off sleepiness.
At short notice, I had to drive overnight from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bharu using the old trunk road decades ago. I managed to stay awake by eating several oranges like an apple, biting and chewing the whole orange, including the peel.
Most sleepy express bus drivers would continue until they reach one of the many rest and service areas, which are spaced about 60km apart along the North-South Expressway. Most of them made it while those who don’t were involved in road accidents.
When the spare driver takes over the wheel, there is no way to ascertain whether the bus is in safer hands.
Can anyone, including the spare driver, get proper sleep or rest on board a moving bus? Passengers may sleep intermittently on board but most will not feel fresh or wide awake the next morning.
If the express bus is driven back the next morning with the same two drivers on board, the operator may have complied with regulation but passengers are at risk with two sleepy drivers.
A safer arrangement is to compel express bus drivers to sleep during the day inside a sleeping capsule, which is air-conditioned, completely dark and soundproof. Anyone who has had the deepest and soundest sleep would no problem driving singlehandedly from Kuala Lumpur to Alor Setar.
Early on Sunday morning, an express bus from Sungei Petani to Kuala Lumpur crashed into the divider, veered into the opposite direction and overturned into a ditch. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic and no fatality.
Six seriously injured passengers were treated at the red zone of the Sungei Buloh hospital, while another eight are in the yellow zone, and six more in the green zone.
The bus was a total wreck and the case is being investigated under Section 43(1) Road Transport Act 1987 for careless and inconsiderate driving.
Earlier on Saturday night, the driver of a bus carrying Kedah football supporters to the Malaysia Cup final at Shah Alam was found dead in his bus due to a heart attack.
Express buses will continue to crash as long as drivers operate them at their whims and fancies, without regulators and operators putting in the necessary checks and balances.
The most concrete step the government can take is to build up a large pool of heavy commercial vehicle drivers in the country, as the shortage allows bad drivers to rotate in the industry.
A large number of unemployed and underemployed graduates can be trained to obtain a Competent Driving Licence (CDL) for heavy vehicles.
If they fancy transporting people by driving buses, they can proceed to obtain the Public Service Vehicle (PSV) licence, or Good Driving Licence (GDL) for transporting goods.
Fresh graduates could easily earn more by driving buses and trucks than those who prefer cushy jobs in offices. Many school leavers are earning up to RM9,000 monthly driving trailers.
It would cost the government much less to subsidise partially or in full for young adults to obtain a CDL and PSV or GDL than offer other training programmes with less earning capacity.
Young men and women have many years of driving ahead of them and they could later move into supervisory or management positions in logistics, or even set up their own business.
The physical and mental health of express bus drivers must be closely monitored on and off the jobs. If dashcams and CCTVs are installed in the driver’s cabin and transmitted live to the bus operator’s control centre, the driver would naturally be on his best behaviour.
Many bus drivers, some wearing earphones, are spending too much time using their smartphone for entertainment or communication.
It is no surprise then that distracted driving and sleepiness are the most common causes of road accidents.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.