Malaysiakini Letter

Highway kings-of-the-road need to be dethroned

Mat Bulog  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to a recent article in one local English daily that described a student nurse's unselfish assistance to the injured in a traffic accident. Syabas to her for her civic-consciousness. The article also stated that the bus was traveling too fast and the driver lost control. This point should be explored in more detail by the authorities. It appears that as there were no fatalities, the issue is a just one of a simple accident.

Wrong. An accident is 'on the cards' for most buses plying Malaysia's turnpike highways. I travel a about 5,000km per month on Malaysia's highways. There is not a time I am on the road when express buses do not pass my vehicle at high rates of speed, above the 90 km/h allowed. The drivers are normally smoking, hanging one arm out the window or otherwise loosely controlling their vehicles.

When another slower moving vehicle is 'in their way', they place their bus right upon the tail end of the vehicle in front of them and almost 'push' it out of their way. A three-lane carriageway is a carte blanche invitation for the bus to use the inside lane to pass in violation of the highway code for heavy vehicles. Many of these buses are traveling above 120 km/h. I can attest to it as I see it every day, mind you - every day.

It appears to me that there is little civic consciousness in the background of express bus drivers. They feel that with a powerful European-designed bus they can be kings of the road. This attitude is somewhat universal, not peculiar just to Malaysia. One can see bus drivers in many Asian countries ruling the road with their bulk. Malaysia tried enforcing a black box ruling that went by the wayside mainly because the RTD refused to enforce it.

I cannot understand why there is not a louder hue and cry from the public in regard to dangerous, speeding express buses. I cannot understand why the managements of the bus companies are not more interested in the fine details of speed, fuel economy, acceleration forces, braking forces and side-to-side G-forces that accompany operating a large vehicle such as a bus. There are major economic benefits to be derived from reducing operating speeds for heavy vehicles in addition to an improved chance that an accident will be avoided or the results of an accident made less severe.

There can be no detailed investigation of the cause of the accident I mentioned above. There is no black box to record the operating parameters of the bus just before the crash. There are no marks on the pavement, no skid marks, nothing but the word of a passenger or two who may have been awake at the time of the accident. There is a high probability the bus was speeding well above the 90 km/h limit.

So another accident stands little chance of a deep investigation. It is a pity the authorities have such little regard for life on Malaysia's expressway network. Heavy vehicles deserve closer monitoring with trip recorders in the operator's cockpit. Review of the log during mandatory inspections can reveal bad operator behaviour. Strong penalties of the company's management when these infractions are evident must be in the regulations as well.

After all, it is the management that allows such rude behaviour by its drivers on Malaysia's highways. Maybe these managers need to look for the same level of civic-consciousness in their driver candidates that the student nurse possessed when she unselfishly treated the injured passengers.

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