At least seven passengers who died in Thursday’s accident at Tiruppur, when a container lorry rammed the side of a Volvo bus of the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation, could have been saved if seat belts were made mandatory in long-distance buses, technical experts who inspected the bus on Friday said.
Furthermore, they sought specialised training for drivers of container lorries and those that ferry chemicals and fuel, since owning a heavy vehicle driving licence is inadequate.
Availability of seat belts in all seats and adherence to the safety precaution would have saved the life of at least seven passengers, including the bus conductor, who were seated on the left row of seats, if the seats were intact. One victim was sitting on the last row, where the impact of the accident was minimal. Just like the six others on left side seats, he too would have died in the impact of being thrown off the seat, said Sibi Mathai, managing director of Vista Driveline Motors, which maintains the fleet of Volvo buses in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
An avid roadie, who is currently pursuing PhD in road safety, Mr. Mathai spoke of how seat belt makes a passenger safer by up to 80% in the event of an accident. “Else, commuters can be thrown off their seats or injure themselves in even a minor collision. The Central Motor Vehicles Act must make such basic safety features mandatory,” he said.
He further cited the need to train drivers of container lorries, since the driver cabin is in most cases connected to the container trailer by a fifth-wheel coupling. Thus, the trailer portion presses forward (referred to as jack-knifing) even if brake is applied and the driver cabin slows down or stops. A heavy vehicle licence holder needs to know the dynamics of operating container trailers. Especially so when the vehicle takes a sharp turning (as was the case in Tiruppur) or when it has to be reversed.
Referring to the high probability of the driver having dozed off, Mr. Mathai said sensors can be fitted to gauge when a driver’s grip on the steering lessens – a symbol that he has begun to doze off, so that an audio signal is given. Moreover, cameras can be installed to warn drivers when the gap between their upper and lower eye lids shrinks beyond a limit, he said.
Exhausted drivers at the wheel are responsible for about 40% of the road accidents, says a study by the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) on the 300-km Agra-Lucknow Expressway.
A senior KSRTC official said that not all seats in long-distance buses had seat belts. “It depends on the specification in the bus-body code for different type of buses,” he said.